NASELLE - The Naselle-Grays River Valley School District has a letter of understanding with Connections Academy of Baltimore, Md., to provide a virtual school program to residents of ESD 112.
"We will offer a pilot program to 25 students in southwest Washington to test the feasibility of running a virtual school out of Naselle. This pilot project will begin Feb. 1," Superintendent Alan Bennett said.
The Connections Academy is a program now in 10 states serving home-schooled students and their families.
"What it will involve, if it is successful, is enrolling students from around the state in our district, and then providing them a virtual education in their own home, guided by a certificated teacher based in Naselle," Bennett said.
"The target audience is home school students whose parents want to home school, but would like to have the structure of a certificated teacher and the convenience of a curriculum that is provided for them," Bennett continued.
"This certainly isn't for everyone. There are strings attached to a public education, even if it occurs at home via a virtual program. We will be having students take the WASL and demonstrate progress in their studies that some may not be accustomed to.
"For many parents however, the prospect of a top notch curriculum, guided by a certificated teacher, while the child stays at home, is a great deal. The parents take on the role of a coach rather than an instructor.
"For others however, the thought of accountability, or a structured curriculum may not fit with their philosophy. That's the beauty of America and the choices we have here. People can choose the paths in life that best fit them."
Bennett said that there are nine local home schooled students who are registered with the school district but he acknowledged that there are several more local students who are not registered with any school district. "This is common," Bennett said. "Statewide, there are estimated to be 40,000 (students). I'm sure there are many more."
The pilot project will enroll 25 students, and that enrollment number has already been reached on a first-come, first-served pre-enrollment basis. "For the pilot, we received $10,000 to offset expenses. It is primarily an opportunity to serve students and families, help defray costs of the district, and provide jobs for our community," Bennett explained.
"For the community, it would be nice to bring in some good paying jobs for new teachers and support staff. Starting a virtual school here also holds promise of retaining some of the jobs that may be lost due to cuts at the (Naselle Youth) camp.
"There are approximately 40,000 home-schooled students in the state of Washington. There is undoubtedly a demand for this sort of educational opportunity. There would be a financial reward for the district as well, that ideally would reduce some of the need for local levy dollars.
"We have some challenges to overcome before we are ready to think in terms of a full scale program, so we are taking it slow. At the December board meeting, the board did a first reading of a new policy that will need to be in place to initiate virtual schooling. Also, at this point the funding model in the state of Washington makes it disadvantageous to run a large program at this time. A large number of new students in a virtual school would hurt our state funding at this point," Bennett concluded.
The Connections Academy Web site is (www.connectionsacademy.com).