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Local teen pioneering online school in Iowa

Elijah Lewis is one of first students at the Iowa Connections Academy

Published: Friday, Jan. 25, 2013 12:00 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Jan. 25, 2013 12:21 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Submitted photo)
Elijah Lewis of Newton works on an assignment from home in his "classroom" as part of the Iowa Connections Academy virtual public school curriculum. This year marks both the first year of ICA classes and Lewis' enrollment in the program.

In its initial school year, the Iowa Connections Academy has already turned one Newton family into firm believers of its services. The Lewis family enrolled their son Elijah, 14, into the online public school in the fall and have had nothing but great things to say about ICA and their staff ever since.

“Iowa Connections Academy is not home schooling,” said Jean Lewis, Elijah’s mother. “It’s virtual public schooling. There is a difference. It’s at home but its considered public school. We did homeschool him. He’s never been to traditional school. We’ve always home schooled him and this year we made the change to the virtual school.”

While is school is online, it maintains an administration building in Anita, Iowa that is complete with a principal, an attendance center and a full office staff. The school runs K-12. All teachers hired by ICA work exclusively for the ICA and report to Anita weekly for staff meetings. The classes are taught through software that the school provides free of charge called Connexus.

“It’s kind of like a chat room,” Elijah said of how his class meets with their teachers. “On certain days and certain times we have live lessons, where the teacher and all the students in that course for that grade get together. And he or she will go over information that was learned in the past few lessons. It’s basically just a big meeting to discuss.”

“And it’s all live,” added Jean. “It’s recorded so that students who aren’t able to attend can view the session later. It’s very impressive.”

In keeping with its theme of learning through advanced technology, ICA offers most of its textbooks in e-book format as well, free of charge. Parents have the option of purchasing a hard copy of the book if they wish to do so. The only things that students need are an active adult to act as a Learning Coach, a willingness to learn, and a computer with an Internet connection.

The biggest key to ICA students learning however has to be its Connexus software. According to connectionsacademy.com, the website of the parent company that manages ICA, “Connexus, our education management system,  is one of the most comprehensive, reliable, and user-friendly online learning systems available. It is our proprietary system, designed from the ground up to meet the exact requirements of our instructional model and the needs of our students and families. It brings students right to the Connexus virtual school 24 hours a day from any Internet connection. Connexus is powerful, yet very intuitive and user-friendly. It is also comprehensive, allowing students and parents to access everything they need from one place — their personalized home page.”

The Lewis family seems to agree with that assessment.

“All of it,” said Elijah when asked what his favorite part of ICA and using Connexus was. “Mainly just the ease of access. After the first week, using it was just a breeze, the site itself and the technology. And if I’m having a bad day and I’m just not getting it — like a complete road block — I can call up my teacher if I wanted to or send them a webmail and tell them what’s going and why I just don’t understand. And they’re just there like that to help,” he said with a snap. “They are just on the ball all the time.”

“All of the teachers have what they call a ‘live lesson room,’” Jean said. “They have office hours, meaning that they are in the virtual system, certain times everyday. So you’re welcome to just go into the chat room and talk to them or by phone.”

With the abundance of free and easy-to-use technology, people may wonder where the school gets its funding. James Brauer, principal of Iowa Connections Academy, elaborated.

“We are funded per the guidelines of the open enrollment law in Iowa, which means that a receiving school district will bill the resident school district for the number of days a student was in attendance,” Brauer explained.

Another positive thing that the Lewis family likes about the school are the teachers.

“The thing that makes these teachers different is they work full time for Iowa Connections Academy,” Jean added. “They are not brick-and-mortar teachers who do this on the side. That’s one thing that makes this school really different from virtual schools that we have done in the past. We don’t necessarily have to wait for assistance, they are available to us all day. I’m not waiting for them to get off of work and call back.”

Even though it is online, the ICA tries to maintain the expectations that most people have of public schools. Students must attend “class” 30 hours per week and an adult must monitor and track their attendance. There are field trips, parent/teacher meetings, gatherings, and offer for students to take AP classes and take courses that offer college credit. There are also multiple clubs and activities for the students to participate in, including debate, yearbook and a gifted and talented program. Elijah visited Simpson College and University of Iowa as a ninth grader as a part of ICA’s field trips.

“This is the first year for Iowa (as a part of Connections Academy),” said Jean. “So we consider ourselves pioneers. We want it to be successful. I love it. I feel like I have a unique perspective because I have something to compare it to. I feel 100 percent supported by the teachers and the support staff. I just feel 100 percent supported and that’s just really the way to sum it up.”

Ty Rushing Daily News Staff Writer may be contacted at (641)-792-3121 ext. 426 or trushing@newtondailynews.com

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