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Arkansas Students Start Cyber-School

Most Arkansas students have to take the bus to school as classes start back up this week. But for 500 kids taking part in the Arkansas Virtual Academy's first year as a charter school, the day's lessons are as close as the computer.
Most Arkansas students have to take the bus to school as classes start back up this week. But for 500 kids taking part in the Arkansas Virtual Academy's first year as a charter school, the day's lessons are as close as the computer. The school is open to anyone from kindergarten to eighth grade. When you go to school at the Arkansas Virtual Academy, you just log on to www.arva.org and sign in. You'll get all your lessons for the day and they're tailor made for you.

With six children including 3-year-old triplets, the Allerheilegen household has almost enough kids to fill a small classroom, so they turned their home into one. Mom Susan Allerheiligen said, "it's so exciting because you know what subjects they're studying and it becomes part of dinner conversation. It becomes a lifestyle."

Susan and her husband enrolled their daughter in the pilot program for the virtual academy last year. And when it became an official charter school, they signed up their sons too. Daughter Ashley Allerheiligen said, "there's nothing to worry about forgetting a pencil in a locker or forgetting a binder because a lot of teachers crack down on that. I can have all my stuff just right there."

Just because it's an online school doesn't mean it's all on the computer. Students get kits with rock collections for science, tambourines for music, and everything in between. And the virtual academy pays for it, along with a computer, and even internet access. Program director Karen Ghidotti said, "this is just another option for parents to be able to have another public school choice in their community."

The household must have a dedicated adult to oversee the child's work. But each of the academy's ten teachers have plenty of interaction with students. They send in lessons each day, conference in on the phone once a week, and offer an online study hall every day where students can chat with their teacher or ask questions through special audio equipment on the computer.

Ashley says she's experienced public school and she likes this better. But she offers a bit of advice. "it's really not for everyone," she said. "But if you want to learn in a way that's going to engage you and stay with you, this is the way to go."

Kids get a chance to socialize too. The virtual academy plans outings each Friday where students can interact with each other and their teachers. And these students perform well on tests. Last year, students scored 7 to 20 percent above the state average in benchmark tests.

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