Utah is offering online courses and schooling to its students from kindergarten through high school.
Utah Connections Academy is one such option. A fully online school for grades K-12, it is a charter school. As such, it is tuition-free, fully accredited and students will receive a high school diploma upon completion.
“Usually, you will not be given financial aid unless you have the equivalent of a high school diploma,” said Scott Teichert, director of admissions at Weber State University. “It’s really incumbent on you, if you want to do online high school, that you ensure that it is accredited through the Utah State Office of Education.”
The school is similar to a traditional brick-and-mortar school. Students are still required to attend 180 days of school, attend classes connected to the state core curriculum, and pass the same testing as their classmates.
However, online students enjoy a flexibility that traditional schools do not offer.
“I teach high school, so my students like to sleep in and do their lessons at night,” Mildon said. “If a student is involved in something like a sport or other activities, they’re able to easily change their learning to accommodate that.”
Parents are highly involved in this method of schooling, participating as a “learning coach” for their child, keeping track of schoolwork and grades, and having discussions with the classroom teacher every week or two.
The teacher is always available by phone or email if any questions arise before these meetings.
For those students who enjoy the traditional school experience but want to venture into the online world, Utah Online School is partnering with the Washington County School District to create a blended classroom for middle and high school students, allowing them to take online courses while also participating in traditional classes.
According to the administration for the online school, this is the first learning model of its kind in the country.
Students interested in participating in a course will first take a pre-assessment test for unit of the course. Earning a 90% will show mastery of the material and the student can continue to the next section.
Once enrolled, they will take several courses online using computers in their high school lab. Mentors are available to keep students motivated.
“Having mentors available is part of our design to help keep the students on track,” she said. “We have an 80-85% completion rate. The mentor program is a big key to success. We just don’t let the students get lost in virtual space. They have mentors to help.”
The courses move as fast as the students do. Belnap said an advanced student could complete the course in half a semester.
The blended courses are available to students all day, every day, so they can finish their schoolwork at home.
Utah Online School is has online offerings at three Intermediate Schools in the state. These online concept recovery classes offer students a way to learn concepts missed in their classes. When the concept is mastered, students return to the classroom.
“Not all students learn the same concept the same way,” she said. “Some do better in the classroom, some do better online.”
In order to make that happen at home or at school, a new program created through the FCC and Comcast offers internet service for $10 a month to those children who qualify for the free or reduced price lunch program. A computer is available for $149.99.
“Prices don’t change, they’re fixed,” said Comcast spokesman Ray Child. “There’s no equipment cost or installation fees. The whole purpose of this program is to provide a public service to these families.”
The program, which began in 2011, serves 6,056 Utah families.