District debuts online school
About 120 students attended the first day of school Wednesday at School District 51 without leaving home.
Students of Grande River Virtual Academy, District 51’s first online school for kindergarten through 12th-grade students, use their home computers to access classes, assignments and exams. The online curriculum for elementary and middle school students comes from K12, an online education program, while Aventa, a related program, provides the high school curriculum, all of which meet state standards.
Like most online schools, Grande River kids are guided through the curriculum by their parents and can call or video chat with a teacher when they get stuck on a lesson or need help navigating through the online school’s system.
Grande River students can visit their teachers in person at a modular unit behind the old Emerson School. The modular is home to the school’s three teachers (a fourth will be hired soon) and a classroom where students can get tutoring or take part in the occasional, optional group lesson.
Grande River’s students can participate in school sports, events and up to three elective classes at a brick-and-mortar school in their neighborhood. That appealed to Jennifer Borszich, whose daughter, Elie Bardi, transferred from Grand Junction High School to Grande River Virtual Academy this year.
“We know other home-schoolers, and we know how important it is for a high-schooler to feel they’re still a part of their class,” Borszich said. “With this being sponsored by the district, she can still go to homecoming and prom and do mock trial.”
Elie said the online school helps her stay focused because she can tackle lessons at her own pace. The 14-year-old sophomore participates in a Denver-based Colorado Olympic Development soccer team and believes online school will best fit her schedule.
“I’m going to California (for soccer) in November, and I can just log on and do my work on the laptop during the 11-hour car ride,” she said.
The school has attracted athletes such as Elie, according to Principal Pat Chapin, and students who want to advance through lessons at a faster pace or take more time and recover credits lost in a failed class. Some students picked Grande River because they have medical issues that may mean they’ll be out of town for weeks at a time to get treatment. Others want to avoid social issues at school, some have disabilities, and a few need to do schoolwork based on when they have time away from work or a baby.
“It serves a unique population,” Chapin said. “It’s needed because our goal is to provide more alternatives. It’s not better; it’s just different.”
What’s different for Grande River teacher Karla Durmas, who taught for online program Colorado Virtual Academy for six years, is she gets to see her students more often. Some online programs don’t have teachers nearby. Some of her online students followed her to Grande River this year to gain access to local contact.
“The enrollment shows there was a need for this,” she said.
About half of the new school’s students did not attend school in the district last year, according to Ron Roybal, District 51’s director of academic options. Roybal said those students came from either a different online program, a charter or private school, or were home-schooled last year.
Each new student means an additional $6,100 in funding from the state for District 51. That allows the school to pay for teachers and materials.
“It’s not a money-making thing, but it’s at least paying for itself,” Roybal said.