Information about a tuition-free, K-12 online public school will be offered in Alexandria on Wednesday, April 12, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Holiday Inn.
The "virtual" school is called Minnesota Connections Academy.
The Carter family of Alexandria says the concept has worked well for them.
Maddie Carter, a senior this year, started taking the online courses in fifth grade. Today, she is completing the coursework while earning college credits through the Post-Secondary Enrollment Option at Alexandria Technical and Community College. She's also finishing an internship in phlebotomy - drawing blood from patients and taking the specimens to the lab for testing - at Tri-County Hospital in Wadena.
She says the online school helped put her on the fast track to graduate from high school and be certified in a career she's excited to pursue right away.
"It's a public high school without the social aspects," Maddie said in a phone interview. "It's still very structured. There's a lot of things you need to accomplish each day, but it still gives you the flexibility to fit in other activities."
Maddie said she'd recommend the online school to those who are looking for personalized options to help them learn.
"I like the school because even though it was challenging at times, you're still able to get the help you need through many different ways," she said. "They provide a lot of tools and almost all of them proved to be beneficial."
Maddie added that the academy also allowed her to participate in field trips, such as to the SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium at Mall of America and other traditional school social activities like prom, dances and community events. She also plans to participate in the academy's graduation ceremony in June.
Maddie's older brother, Devan, now 22, also found success through the academy. He enrolled in the program as a ninth-grader and also took PSEO courses before graduating from high school. He's now working in the construction industry.
He said the program encouraged self-management and how to complete his work in a reasonable amount of time. While enrolled in the academy, he said he didn't feel like he was missing out on the social aspects of a traditional public school.
Debora Carter, the mother of Maddie and Devan, was also impressed with the academy. "We really liked how involved the teachers were," she said. "There was always someone available."
Background about the academy
Minnesota Connections Academy, which began in 2005, combines the parental involvement of homeschooling, the expertise and accountability of public education with teacher involvement, and the flexibility of online learning.
Its leaders say it's designed to meet the needs of students and their families who are looking for a unique public school option - those who need a flexible schedule, learn at a different pace from their peers, need more individualized attention or live in isolated rural settings.
Homebound and previously home-schooled students can also thrive in the program, according to the academy.
The academy has more than 75 full-time faculty members, including state-certified teachers, school guidance counselors, special education professionals and administrative staff, including a principal.
Students work with their teachers via email, live online lessons, text-based curriculum, webcasts and telephone conversations, while their learning coach monitors progress in the home.
The academy offers field trips and community experiences where students and teachers have an opportunity to meet face-to-face. Extracurricular online opportunities are also available.
According to the academy, more than 2,000 students in Minnesota are currently enrolled in the program. About half of the school's enrollment comes from the Twin Cities Metro area and the other half comes from the remainder of the state.
How does a tuition-free school cover its costs and make money?
"Connections Academy receives its funding from the state Department of Education. Part of the dollars travel with student, part stays with district," said Melissa Gould, principal. "Staff at Minnesota Connections Academy recognize that every child learns differently and find that parents, students and educators in Minnesota have much to be thankful for with the state's vast education options."
At the session...
Enrollment for MTS Minnesota Connections Academy's 2017-18 school year is under way, and free in-person information sessions are being offered around the state.
At the April 12 session in Alexandria, families will meet with faculty, hear how the program works, explore its curriculum and learn how to enroll. Other topics will include how teachers interact with students in a virtual environment, personalized learning opportunities, college preparation, community experiences and socialization, the role of the parent or learning coach and using technology.
Real-time, virtual information sessions and parent panels are also being offered. For a complete schedule of events and to RSVP, visit www.ConnectionsAcademy.com/MTSMCAevents.