Article by Jan Badgley
Education – September 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine
Thanks to the Internet, you can attend an accredited public high school without leaving your house. My 16-year-old daughter, Kelsey, did it for a semester last year.
The school is the Monte Vista On-Line Academy, based in the San Luis Valley. It’s part of the Monte Vista Community School, also known as the Byron Syring DELTA Center — DELTA stands for Diploma, English second language, Lifelong learners, Teens, Adults.
DELTA is an outreach program to serve students who aren’t in the public school system: drop-outs, expelled students, private-school pupils. The Monte Vista On-Line Academy, a pilot program approved for per-pupil funding under the state school finance act, began operating last fall.
And how did Kelsey get into it?
I was working on an article about DELTA for another publication, and mentioned it to her. She was interested, even though she was not a drop-out, but a student in good standing at Gunnison High School.
So she applied — the application required a three-page essay, among other things — and we learned more about the program. Coursework is taught by a certified instructor via computer and modem. Don Wilkinson, DELTA Center director, hoped to enroll twenty Colorado students last year and forty this year, plus as many out-of-state and international students as might apply. Both of the latter groups would be charged tuition.
And there was some direct personal interaction. Five of the accepted students met for a fall seminar in Monte Vista last September 15. Tim Snyder, Monte Vista superintendent, explained that such gatherings are important “so they can meet each other and have a visual connection with the people they’ll be working with,” as well as “the social aspect so important to high school students.”
Kelsey was accepted, so we were at that seminar, following a nervous fortnight of waiting for her school to start while all the other kids in town were in regular classes. Everywhere she went during school hours, people asked “Why aren’t you in school?” or “Are you playing hooky?”
She tried to explain, but before the meeting, she didn’t know really what to tell them.
We found out at the meeting in Monte Vista, which made Gunnison seem like a large city. We checked into the historic Monte Vista Hotel, surprised that only two of its sixty rooms were vacant. The desk clerk explained that it was potato-harvest time, and many of the crews stayed at the hotel for the six weeks of harvest.
We spent the day at the DELTA center. Instructor Alan McFadden taught the five students how to assemble their computers and connect to the Internet and explained how classes would run. Course-work is project-driven. He would present a learning objective and then give guidance on how to research and complete the goal.
“Each of you will be expected to have daily contact with me,” McFadden said. “You will send me an E-mail about your daily progress.” Students would be expected to be on-line about two hours a day.
He offered a sample assignment:
Learning Objective: Explain the causes of the Revolutionary War including a description of the tensions that developed between Great Britain and the colonies from 1763 to 1772.
Evidence of Accomplishment Required: Three-page response, instructor observations during `chat/ time and unit examination.
Guidance: Contact a former history teacher, Mrs. McGillicuddy, in Hartford, Connecticut, (e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org) for further guidance. Also contact S. Williams in London, England, (e-mail address: email@example.com) to obtain British perspective.”
So far, so good, but not everybody has a computer. However, grants provided computers and modems to the five students at the meeting, including Kelsey.
There’s more to it, of course, including the administrative complications of school funding.
Kelsey didn’t want to attend the local high school full time, but she wanted to continue singing in the choir. We thought we had an agreement to let Kelsey audit the choir class for no credit.
But then the Gunnison superintendent realized that Kelsey’s state funding was going to Monte Vista, and we found ourselves in the middle of an argument about money. Eventually the school administrators negotiated an agreement — Monte Vista would pay Gunnison $500 for each class Kelsey takes in Gunnison, up to two per year.
Kelsey also wanted to take Spanish — we solved that by hiring a bilingual Western State College student to tutor her.
As it turned out, though, all did not proceed perfectly after all that.
After one semester on line, Kelsey returned to Gunnison High School last winter, and she will be there again this fall.
“The on-line school didn’t work for me,” she said, “because I’m a real social person and need to see other people. It was really hard for me to stay around the house with my mom and the computer all day.”
She also found it difficult to stay motivated. “I need deadlines, or I don’t buckle down and do the work, and they operated on a `when you can get it done’ basis.”
Kelsey is “glad I tried it, but I wouldn’t want to do it again. I learned a lot about computers and the Internet, but I do better in a regular classroom.”
But even though this didn’t work out for Kelsey, it’s certainly an option worth considering for students who, for whatever reasons, would prefer an alternative to regular schools.
Jan Badgley is a free-lance journalist in Gunnison. She is a also staff writer for the Gunnison Country Times and her Alternative Healing columns appeared regularly in the Gunnison Valley Telegraph back when the Telegraph appeared regularly.
For more information about the Monte Vista On-Line Academy, contact Don Wilkinson, Director, Monte Vista On-Line Academy, 345 East Prospect Ave., Monte Vista CO 81144, 719-852-2212, or e-mail Alan McFadden at firstname.lastname@example.org.