GUEST COLUMN: Online learning viable alternative for education

Amy Valentine Published: January 24, 2014 | 12:00 am 0

We live in an exciting time for public education, here in Colorado as well as across the country. Exciting, not only because our children are being challenged as never before to prepare for an increasingly global economy, but also because educators and policymakers are being called upon as never before to empower our children to rise to that challenge. And that has meant addressing the increasingly diverse needs of our youth with an ever-broader array of meaningful educational options.

Our groundbreaking online-learning programs - Insight School of Colorado and Colorado Preparatory Academy - are among the most innovative of all educational options available in our state today. Arguably, they have the greatest potential to prepare our youths for today, tomorrow and beyond. They adapt to the uniqueness of every student and can bring out the best in each student in a way that few other programs can.

We are proud to observe National School Choice Week, Jan. 26-Feb. 1, celebrating Colorado's increasingly diverse public-education portfolio - including neighborhood public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, private schools, home schooling and of course online learning. Colorado families are fortunate in that they can take advantage of so many school-choice options, thanks to some forward-thinking policies enacted in our state over the years. A central premise of these options is that children and their parents deserve a choice - and deserve better than to be hemmed in by arbitrary restrictions like enrollment caps, waiting lists and school boundaries.

Online learning in particular represents a remarkable stride. Because cyberspace by definition has no limits, online education is rich with options in curriculum and learning methods. Our curriculum allows students at all levels to enroll in a variety of courses to meet their learning styles. Teachers and advisers develop relationships with students via live, online instructional sessions as well face-to-face academic sessions, interim assessments and field trips. Colorado Preparatory Academy provides a college focus while Insight School of Colorado requires students to participate in post-secondary planning programs with an emphasis on career and college options.

There are many educational options out there for families. Our programs have further diversified the world of online education in Colorado. The more tailored our schools are, the better we are able differentiate our offerings and provide a customized educational experience, which goes above and beyond even academics to include post-secondary readiness, skills development and socialization.

The 21st century requires students to be more technologically-savvy, use their critical thinking skills and work independently to tap into their creativity and self-advocacy skills. Our schools are founded on a learning environment that supports the development of these skills, both academically and personally.

At the same time, let's not forget that so many of the students enrolled in our programs had experienced years of frustration with more conventional classroom settings, particularly in their neighborhood schools. Their needs simply weren't being met.

There are many ways in which brick-and-mortar schools fail students who eventually turn to an online education. Some schools don't challenge them academically and intellectually. Others aren't able to help children with special needs, despite their theoretical mandate to meet those needs. Some neighborhood schools fall prey to a culture of bullying. Very often, online schooling is the lone alternative for families stranded in neighborhoods with troubled brick-and-mortar schools. There might not be charter schools or other realistic educational options anywhere nearby, or those that there are might be backlogged with waiting lists.

In other words, we often are the last - and yet best - hope for many of the students we serve. Of all the profound ways in which the Internet has changed and improved our lives, it could turn out that its greatest legacy is its ability to educate young people.

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Amy Valentine is the executive director for Colorado Preparatory Academy and Insight School of Colorado. Both schools are tuition-free, online public charter schools serving students in grades K-12 across the state. Learn more at http://www.k12.com/cpa or http://co.insightschools.net.

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