Online learning: Districts find strong interest from students - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Education News

Online learning: Districts find strong interest from students

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Posted: Wednesday, May 9, 2012 9:12 am | Updated: 2:29 pm, Wed May 9, 2012.

East Valley brick-and-mortar school districts are becoming well known — and well sought out — for their online courses.

Mesa Unified School District’s Mesa Distance Learning Program (MDLP) was one of the original online programs approved in the state when it began nearly two decades ago. This year, about 14,000 students are taking classes through the district, said Doug Barnard, who coordinates MDLP. That’s up from 9,000 just two years ago and includes full-time and part-time students.

This year, both Gilbert and Chandler unified school districts launched their own online academies to offer students full-time options to take classes through the Internet.

Gilbert has offered online classes for about nine years. Class enrollment has more than doubled in Gilbert in the last year, said Scott Lymer, coordinator of Gilbert’s Global Academy.

There are 4,400 “open courses” at this time in the district — each representing one student taking one class. A year ago, there were 2,200 open courses.

Lymer estimates about 3,500 individual students are taking classes, with about 150 being full-time.

“We get the spectrum. It seems like the students, they have so many things going on in their lives that they can’t get in all their requirements. They want to keep choir and band and keep that stuff going. But with the increase in graduation requirements — more math — they don’t want to give anything up. They keep the fine art, the choirs and they want to take their online learning classes with us,” Lymer said.

Those numbers may jump as the district changed its policies. Online education — school year and summer — is free in Gilbert.

There are also students who have just struggled at the brick-and-mortar campuses for one reason or another, online program directors say. That leads them to online learning.

Melody Kirshberg, 16, discovered Chandler Online Academy through her mom, a teacher in the Chandler school district.

Plagued by health problems last school year that forced her to miss days of school at a time, Kirshberg, normally a successful student, found herself struggling in classes.

With the online courses she’s taking now — English, biology, geometry and trigonometry — it’s easier to keep up with the academics, she said last week after taking her geometry final.

“I was kind of scared because I wasn’t going to be with a teacher,” she said of first starting the online classes. “I love it. You can go at your own pace. You don’t have to wait if someone else doesn’t get it. I find it so much fun.”

What works for Kirshberg is the fact that she keeps up at an “accelerated” pace in her classes. That way, if she does feel ill — she’s still dealing with stomach issues — she doesn’t fall behind.

J’me Upchurch, coordinator of the Chandler Online Academy, said the district had more full-time students than it anticipated when it opened in December. Through last month, there were 67 full-time online students.

The district expects that to be about 100 next year, with another 400 taking classes part-time.

“Next year, we are going to increase our elective offerings. We have a large number of honors and AP (Advanced Placement) courses and all the core courses students need to graduate high school,” Upchurch said.

Mesa and Chandler offer online education free for full-time students but do charge a fee if a student is just taking a class or two above what they’re already enrolled in at a brick-and-mortar campus.

Mesa offers online courses for kindergarten through 12th grade. Gilbert’s program is now for high school, as is Chandler. But Upchurch said Chandler is looking to offer a junior high school option next year.

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