Region students benefitting from online schooling

2013-10-26T21:00:00Z 2013-10-29T13:42:12Z Region students benefitting from online schoolingCarmen McCollum carmen.mccollum@nwi.com, (219) 662-5337 nwitimes.com

Neither Breanna Prater, 12, nor Seth Shirey, 17, are surrounded by other students when they study — no brick or mortar.

They have no teacher in front of the classroom nor library down the hall. But both students believe they have found the ideal learning situation in cyberspace.

Breanna, of Gary, is a seventh-grader, and Seth, of Kouts, is a high school senior. They live on opposite sides of Northwest Indiana, and both are enrolled at Indiana Cyber Charter School.

Opened in 2012, Indiana Cyber Charter School is a statewide online learning program for students in kindergarten through grade 12. InCyber is authorized by Education One LLC, the charter school authorizing body of Trine University.

Don Williams, CEO of Indiana Cyber Charter School, said the program has approximately 220 students enrolled across the state, up from 84 students when it started. 

Though it's an online school, Williams said the program communicates with students in a variety of ways, including telephone, email, text and video chat Skype sessions.

"It seems to work terrifically and conveniently for families," he said Friday. "They have a great deal of access to and attention from teachers and school administration."

Williams said from time to time, students realize another mode of education would be best for them, so they make a decision to withdraw.

"For the majority of our students — because we have taken the time to meet with every student prior to enrollment — it enables them to evaluate if this is the best school for them. And they are prepared for what is expected of them," he said.

Alice Anderson, dean of the College of Education at Purdue University Calumet in Hammond, said online education for students in kindergarten through 12th grade can be a good tool for students and families. Generally speaking, Anderson said it serves students who have individualized needs.

"The thing to be concerned about is that the instruction must be engaging so students really learn and understand the information," Anderson said. "There are standards in place through which online education can be evaluated as to how engaging and how strong it is. Online education is no longer a situation where a student reads a lot of material and answers questions."

Anderson said it's essential to have a structured environment at home, ensuring students engage with an instructor on a regular basis.

Breanna Prater uses the family's dining room table as her classroom. Her school day runs from about 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. She was initially enrolled at Lake Ridge Middle School, but she said some "bullying" problems caused her to withdraw. She has two brothers who still attend the Lake Ridge Schools.

Breanna's mother, Michelle Prater, said she believes there are some really "fantastic" teachers at Lake Ridge but felt it wasn't the right environment for her daughter.

"I quit my job to make sure she does well," Prater said.

In addition to the school work, Prater said she takes her daughter on field trips and to social activities through their church. She said her daughter still sees her friends at high school football games.

Seth said he likes the ability to work at his own pace. He hangs out in the family room and sets his own hours. His mother, Staci Kociara, said the online program has helped her son to be more organized and less distracted.

"I can see exactly what he is doing," she said, adding a disadvantage is that he doesn't get to see his friends as much.

She also said Seth, who has attention deficit disorder, did not believe he could go to college until he enrolled in the online program. He's working part time now and plans to become a police officer.

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