Online students visit MC campus

It was described as a field trip but also served as a reunion of sorts for a group of Ohio Connections Academy students and their families who gathered at Marietta College Thursday morning. The students took in a show at the planetarium, the older ones were given a campus tour and the younger ones got to play with objects in the geology lab.

The academy organizes such trips throughout the year, spokeswoman Angela Dobbins said as kindergarteners explored objects — including toy dinosaurs and interesting rocks — in the geology lab. The group included about 80 people, including students, parents and teachers.

The academy is a tuition-free online K-12 school. Dobbins said some of the students on the trip already knew one another from previous field excursions, but others might have met only in the virtual classroom and were seeing one another face-to-face for the first time.

Luke Shadrosky, of Akron, said he and his wife, Amanda, decided to place their 5-year-old, Jaina, in the online school after seeing an ad for OCA on television and doing some research.

“It seemed like a good way to have the flexibility around our work hours,” he said.

Shadrosky does shiftwork at a warehouse, and his wife is a cosmetologist.

Jaina, he said, is doing well with her online schooling.

“It’s very personalized compared to a traditional school,” he said.

Jaina’s teacher, Rachel Feist, said she taught kindergarten at a private school before moving to OCA 15 years ago. Although online classrooms are different, she said, the students still get a sense of community through “live lessons” in which they all participate. For those occasions, she said, photos of all the children are posted on computer screens so they can see their classmates’ faces.

Feist works out of her home in Columbus, where OCA also has its headquarters.

Nikki Scott, 13, a seventh grader from McConnelsville, said she’s been an OCA student since third grade.

“You work independently and you can just stay focused on learning,” she said.

Scott said the academy has some of the traditional activities associated with public schools, including student councils and clubs, with meetings through the system’s “live lesson” option. She has the option to work harder and graduate two years early, she said. She intends to take up criminal law and hopes to teach it one day.

Adapting to online learning is easy, she said.

Her mother, Melinda Lape, said a routine can be developed around the child and family interests.

“You could start the day out with yoga if you want,” she said.

Dobbins said the flexibility “teaches students how to prioritize their day.”

Lape also said online schooling makes it easier for parents –and students — to limit their exposure to the outside world and be more selective about the way influences such as news and social media impact their lives.

The recent spectacular failure of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow — ECOT ,which closed down after the state demanded return of education funds in the wake of a dispute over finances — drove many students to seek other resources, and OCA was one of them. Dobbins said the academy saw about 800 new students after ECOT closed and hired many of ECOT’s unemployed teachers.

Another benefit of online education is one weighing on the minds of parents and students after numerous school killings across the country: there are no buildings or classrooms that need to be defended against armed intruders.

“That’s a problem we just don’t have,” Dobbins said.

Marietta was one of many locations where students have met for field trips.

“Luke Shadrosky said it was the first time he’d spent any time in Marietta, although he passes through occasionally on I-77 when going to visit family in North Carolina.

“It’s a nice little town, and now that I’m here, it doesn’t seem as remote as I thought it would,” he said.

At a glance

Ohio Connections Academy

¯ Online K-12 learning.

¯ Students: 4,700.

¯ Teachers and other staff: 192.


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