MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

March 12, 2014

Virtual school offers education alternative

Session touts tuition-free public school option

Sophomore English teacher Ashley Hambright teaches a class of 80 students.

And she’s able to give each one personal attention, she said.

Hambright teaches online through Oklahoma Connections Academy, a tuition-free virtual public school. She shared her experiences and expertise at an information session Tuesday night in Muskogee. The session enabled families to meet administrators and teachers associated with Oklahoma Connections Academy.

Hambright, who taught in Pawhuska Public Schools, said she can reach more students through the virtual classrooms. She also teaches junior English, journalism and Advanced Placement English literature and language through the school.

“Even though it’s not a classroom of 25 students, it’s more manageable ,” she said. “I get to provide better, individualized instruction to the students. Overall, I have 178 students total, for all those different courses I listed.”

Samantha Marsh said she teaches 53 fourth- and fifth-graders through the program. She said they live “all across the state.”

Now in its third year, the Bartlesville-based virtual school serves more than 700 students across Oklahoma.

“We were just approved through the Oklahoma State Virtual Charter Board,  which the Oklahoma Department of Education approved earlier this year,” Hambright said.

She said Oklahoma Connections Academy students take the same state tests and must meet the same standards as Oklahoma public schools.

“Our curriculum has to meet the state standards, but it also has to meet rigorous national standards as well,” she said. “The only thing parents are required to have is Internet capability and a computer, whether it be a laptop or desktop computer.”

However, it’s not all online. Students, especially in the younger grades, also have access to books.

Amanda Gray, who has a daughter classified as special needs and son in kindergarten, said she had been looking for a virtual school, such as Oklahoma Connections Academy.

“I actually had thought about doing online school,” Gray said. “I’m a stay at home mom and I want to be more involved in my kids’ schooling.”

Hambright said parents play a key role in the online education.

“Parents serve as facilitators, which is practically an extension of the teachers,” she said. “The parents work with teacher, so it’s a team effort to help the child be successful in education.”

Hambright said teachers collaborate with each other.

“I can collaborate with a student’s social studies teacher and math teacher,” she said. “Or if there is a sibling, the elementary teacher.”

The school also offers virtual labs in science class, she said.

Students also can get involved in clubs and activities such as a chess club, gifted and talented and Advanced Placement, she said. There also are academies for sports, math/science and performing arts.

 “Our performing arts program is partnered with the Julliard School,” Hambright said, referring to a private arts conservatory in New York City.

Students also have the opportunity to socialize with each other by going on field trips or other events. Hambright said she had taken students bowling in Checotah earlier that day, then later had a test preparation session at the Checotah library. Field trips can be held all over the state, she said.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogeephoenix.com.

FYI

Oklahoma Connections Academy is accepting students for the 2014-2015 school year during the open transfer period through May 31. Information: (800) 382-6010 or visit the school’s website www.OklahomaConnectionsAcademy.com

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