Eighth-grader Katelyn Nason has advanced rapidly since enrolling in La Grande Learning Academy in January.
“She’s on fire,” said Lou Lyon, a teacher at La Grande Learning Academy, La Grande School District’s online school, which opened six months ago.
Nason enrolled at the start of second semester, and since then she has completed middle school health, math and English language arts courses, earning an A in each class.
“It is not even spring break yet and she has already finished three classes,” said Lyon, who is also the Learning Academy’s online coordinator.
Nason is doing particularly well in math. She recently enrolled in Algebra I, a high school class. She is enjoying working at her own pace online.
“You can rewind, fast forward or do whatever you need to do,” the eighth-grader said.
Nason is one of 29 students enrolled in the new online school. The students do much of their work at home but regularly come to the Academy’s two classrooms at Willow School, where they receive support and guidance from Lyon and Kelly Richards, a La Grande School District teacher.
Most of the students take classes through the video-based Acellus program. They are taught by teachers throughout the United States, all of whom have Oregon teacher licenses. Each of the classes has to be approved by a La Grande School District teacher of record, who certifies that the class meets school district standards. The teachers of record are all available to guide La Grande Learning Academy students.
“The teachers provide excellent support,” Nason said.
La Grande Learning Academy is free to all La Grande School District students in elementary school through high school.
“Many of the students are those who do best in small classroom settings with individualized attention,” Lyon said.
Lyon and Richards closely monitor the progress of students to make sure they keep up.
“You need to study every day,” Lyon said she tells the students. “It is amazing how fast you can fall behind if you do not.”
Students who are behind by a week or more are required to come to the Academy’s classrooms each school day until they are caught up, Lyon said.
Lyon said that for an online student to succeed, parental support is critical.
“It makes a huge difference,” she said. “Students who do not have parental support fall behind quickly.”
Lyon said parents of online students need to make sure their children are doing their school work regularly, ask them about what they are learning, check in with the La Grande Learning Academy staff and provide help whenever possible. She noted that the efforts of Katelyn Nason’s mother, Elysa, is playing a key role in her daughter’s success at the Learning Academy.
When new students enroll, Lyon encourages them to set goals. These may range from graduating high school to developing better study skills and becoming more independent.
“I want them to have a goal,” she said. “If you have a goal to strive toward, you will have more success.”
Goals are particularly important for online students, Lyon said, because of the challenging nature of virtual learning.
“It is absolutely harder to take classes when you do not have a teacher sitting across from you,” she noted.
This is why La Grande Learning Academy provides two teachers who are available every school day to work with the students.
“We want to create an intense (student-teacher) relationship,” Lyon said.
Lyon said although the classes La Grande Learning Academy students are taking are high quality, she does not believe it is in the best interest of students to be home alone for extended periods taking classes online.
“We feel there is great value in a culture of camaraderie, to be in a school family,” Lyon said.
She said that Acellus offers excellent core classes but lacks electives such as band, choir and career technical education. Lyon said she hopes La Grande Learning Academy students will take advantage of the opportunity to take elective courses at the district’s brick-and-mortar schools.
La Grande School District Superintendent George Mendoza agrees.
“We want to provide blended learning opportunities,” he said.
He noted that the online academy ties in with the school district’s objectives.
“Our goal is to increase learning opportunities for students,” Mendoza said.
Lyon said she is finding that online students are a delight to work with.
“I like interacting with online students. They are confident, hard-working and ask great questions,” she said.
She added that they are model students in terms of behavior.
“We do not have any discipline problems,” she said.
Lyon said that helping run La Grande Learning Academy is very satisfying.
“I like being able to help add an educational delivery option,” she said.