Tag Archives: online school

Small Town Kindness

I’m sitting in my breakfast-nook-turned-office of our new home in our new town.  I decided I should take a break from the tasks of my new jobs (yes, jobs – plural) and share with the blog reading world about a little surprise moment that occurred earlier this week.

One of my new jobs is as the dean of students for Crosslake Community High School, a new online high school in Minnesota. The school hired me to problem solve, work with their students to ensure attendance and work completion, and to handle items such as admissions, graduation plans, and guidance counseling. I love the school board’s approach to this new venture as they are very cautious about how to proceed.  With no advertising at all, the program is full.  A learning lab is open five days a week with a licensed teacher supervising and assisting students with their planning and course completion. I am working from my sweet office in my house.

On Tuesday, I decided a quick trip to meet with staff and visit my students would make my life happy. Thankfully, the Minnesota Twins played a winning game that evening as I drove across North Dakota and Minnesota.  On Wednesday, I enjoyed my first “in person” full school day with the staff and students.  Crosslake Community Charter School has a seat-based kindergarten through eighth grade program from which the need for a high school option came.  Little people mix with my high school students in a way that reminded me of PACT Charter School.  The staff and students were so warm and welcoming to me…and they are hardly know me!

I have had some amazing experiences in K-12 education in Minnesota.

After a great day with the staff and students at CCCS, I headed out.  Because of our move, I needed to make a stop at the DMV in Pine River. It’s a long story as to why I was there, but I needed to take care of something…and doing it in person in Minnesota would speed up the process.

I had a hard time finding the right building. The DMV is housed in a building that seems to have multi-purposes. I think they sell watches, antiques, and jewelry there as well. Once I located the right building, I thought the transaction would be quick.  Nope. First there was a problem with the person in front of me…and then there was a problem with me.  The DMV person tried several times to make my credit card work, but it just wouldn’t go through.

Do you have cash or a check?”

No. I never have cash.  Well, not real cash. I often have change that totals a dollar or slightly more or slightly less.  But I rarely have real cash.  And I have a check even less often.  I was about to give up and just drive home without accomplishing my task knowing that I could take care of it through the mail.  But I really wanted to get it done! I was there…and I have a way to pay – just not in a way that was working.  Grr…

What I haven’t told is that there was an older couple in line behind.  They had patiently waited along with me through the issue of the customer in front of me, and they continued to patiently wait through my issue.  We had made small talk, and it turned out they lived near my school.

Could we help you out? I have a check…”

The retired woman got up from the waiting chair and took out her checkbook.  The DMV person shared the amount with her.  And before I could blink, the transaction was over, we had exchanged information, and I had promised to mail a check to pay them back.

As I drove away, I thought back to my hours of similar waiting experiences at the DMVs around the Twin Cities. They have systems that protect your privacy so that no one knows when you are frustrated, overwhelmed, or upset.  Had a similar situation occurred in the Twin Cities, there would have been no opportunity for a kind person to know that I had an issue.  It isn’t that people are nicer in small towns (though, that argument may be made by some).  It is rather, due to the numbers of people, that systems have been made in larger cities to separate us from each other.

In order to return “small town kindness” in larger settings, we have to open our eyes and ears so that we can lend our hand to another. Some may call that nosy – that is not what I am advocating.  Rather, I am urging us to look up from our feet (or our phones) and into the eyes of others around us to see the needs, some small…some great, and to offer our assistance when we can.

It is Friday.

Many of us have some time off in the next couple of days.

In the midst of what we have planned, do we have some margin available to give time to others?  I would love for readers to come back and share ways that they have helped or have been helped over the weekend.

ps: I really love my students – and I think some of them like me!

Some students attended the learning lab on Wednesday. We ate lunch together and had an "end of day" photo together.  It was great!

Some students attended the learning lab on Wednesday when I was at Crosslake Community High School. We ate lunch together and had an “end of day” photo together. It was great!




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Online Learning: A Dual Perspective

As an online educator, I have seen the power of online learning from the perspective of a teacher.  I have seen online education be a vehicle for bright students to move quickly in through concepts that they have mastered so that they can go more deeply into concepts that interest them.  I have seen online education be a vehicle to allow students who are involved in rigorous competitive activities such as gymnastics, snowboarding, or horse jockeying stay in school while competing nationally and globally. I have seen online education allow students with challenges meet their goals of obtaining their high school diploma.

Online learning is powerful.

I was reminded again last night about the power of online learning for my own children.  As they sat in the live session with their teacher from New Zealand, my heart was so happy.  My children have used online learning off and on for the past six years as needs have come up with scheduling or class offerings (mostly math).  Our son spent a year and half as a full-time online student before he returned to a seat-based school due to the extra-curricular options available to him and his desire to have daily in person interactions with other kids his age.

Online learning can be full-time or part-time.

Often when people hear of online schools, they only imagine the full-time students who work from home in their pajamas.  (An aside: not all full-time students work from home in their pajamas, but it is a nice benefit – as my son.)  However, many students enrolled in a seat-based school take online classes as part of their educational experience. 

Reasons for this include the following:
    • Scheduling issues
    • Limited course offerings at the seat based school for a variety of reasons (funding!)
    • A desire to expand on the high school experience through electives
    • A desire to pursue outside activities

    By the way – all students in Minnesota are eligible for part-time online classes.  The school where they attend can reduce their course load by the number of courses they take online. They law states that students can take up to 50% of their courses online, and their enrolling school can sign a waiver to allow them to take more.  Click here for more information on this in Minnesota.

    The challenge for full-time online students is in person interaction.

    As part of my job as dean of students at an online school, I go to court when students (who stayed in their pajamas but never logged in and did any work) have had attendance issues.  (An aside: In Minnesota, students who attend the publically funded online schools remain subject to attendance and truancy laws.)  I obviously cannot share the details of the hearing because of privacy laws.  However – after the hearing – I had a conversation with the county attorney who asked about how online schools overcome the challenge of person-to-person interactions.

    It is a challenge!  However, in the same way that homeschoolers have stated that they can overcome the challenge, students in online learning can.  It takes dedication on the part of parents to help coordinate these efforts, and many online schools encourage it through field trips and giving course credit for service learning (volunteering).  While our son spent his time as a full-time online student, he volunteered with his elementary teacher and helped younger students with reading.  It was a great experience for him!

    Online learning needs to be embraced.

    Although challenges exist, these challenges can be overcome through planning by parents and online programs.  Students will continue to seek online learning as a way to challenge them and support them through their K-12 experience.  It opens doors that the traditional model of school cannot, but traditional models are learning and becoming more flexible.  As online schools become more accountable by state departments for student attendance and testing, they will continue to gain more credibility.  The workload is not lighter, and it is not an easy way to do school.  In fact, most attendance policies require that students do more than simply log on – they need to make progress.  This adds a layer of rigor which is needed to maintain credibility.

    What have readers heard or experienced in terms of online learning?  Have others had children take online classes? If so, what is your impression of the programs?

    ps: Tomorrow will be Day 1 for a weekly webinar series for parents of online learners at my school. I am so excited.  If you want to ever watch one of these, let me know.


    Other posts about online learning from this author:

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    Graduation: Online School Style

    It is June in Minnesota.  This means that weekends are filled predominately with fishing, graduations, and graduation parties.

    For the past nine years, I have worked at Minnesota high schools which means that I have now been through nine graduation ceremonies – with seven of them being online school graduations.

    It may shock readers to find out that graduation ceremonies are pretty traditional even in the non-traditional setting such as the online school setting.  Students have the option to physically attend a ceremony, and many choose to do so.   They wear black robes, they walk down an aisle as Pomp and Circumstance plays, and they endure speeches by adults.

    On Saturday, I assisted in the execution of a special online school’s graduation.


    Sixty-eight of the 200+ graduating class from MTS-Minnesota Virtual High School enjoyed their big day in the the Minneapolis Convention Center.  With their 600+ audience, they fulfilled their last high school obligation.

    It was just like any other graduation in that there were diplomas and speeches and pictures – oh my!

    But what was different was that this group of students had probably not met each other in person before that day. They had come from all over the state of Minnesota – some farther than others. In fact, as their names were read, tidbits of who these kids are was also shared.

    Many of the students chose this type of learning because they wants a faster or slower pace than the traditional classroom.

    Many of the students chose this type of learning because a health situation required an alternate schedule.

    Many of the students chose this type of learning because it allowed them to parent their children.

    Many of the students chose this type of learning because, for one reason or another, they needed to work – many of them at full-time jobs.

    With each name that was read, a bit of their story was shared.  But…there was so much more about each of them that could have been shared, and I wish that we would have had time to do that.

    Having school choice never seems more important than when a room full of graduates  share why they needed school choice and what that choice has allowed them accomplish.  I am thankful that I live in a state that has these opportunities for its students.

    Both of the student speakers shared about having hopes and dreams for their futures; however, more than that, they emphasized the fact that they did not thing those dreams would be possible had they not found Minnesota Virtual High School.

    I hope that all students can find the school that is the right fit for them, that they can flourish in that setting, and that they can make their dreams of a high school education a reality.

    Happy Graduation to the Class of 2012!

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    Tangent: Drive-Truancy-Support Network

    Oy vey!  I love to drive; I really do…but this month is hitting an extreme.  For my job as dean of students at an online school, I do a bit of traveling to attend court for students who are truant.  Today I am in Hibbing, MN.  Where is that?  Google it.  Next week, I will be in Thief River Falls, MN.  And the week after that, I will be in International Falls, MN – almost in Canada!  Fun stuff…and tiring.  I left my house this morning just after 6 a.m. (not on time, by the way), and I was thankful that my maps were correct in their estimation rather of how long it takes to get there.  Today is a long day.

    How can a student be truant in an online school?

    Great question!  It is the question that consumes most of my working (and lots of other) moments.

    Being truant in an online school is easier than in a traditional school.  Do not be offended by this, but truancy in a traditional school can most easily be avoided by simply showing up.  The student does not have to do work. The student does not even  have to stay away.  If the student’s butt is in the seat, the student is in attendance.  In an online school, attendance is defined as the progress that a student makes.  This still does not ensure that the student will pass or do quality work, but I do believe that it is one step closer to a decent requirement over the butt in seat requirement.

    libraryWhat are you up today? 

    My office is the Hibbing Public Library. 

    No cell phones!


    I can honestly say that if you are not thinking about how you can be a part of student’s life, you should consider it.  Students need support networks.  Every student that goes to court has a situation that makes my heart sad.  I am not asking everyone to be everything for every kid.  I am asking you to consider how you can be part of a network…how you can be one part of a fence that goes around a kid to support success.  Maybe you are good at something…like encouraging the student to dream…

    What do you think?  Who was your support network? How was that network important to where you are today?  What is the small thing you can do to be a part of something great?

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    Qualities of Successful Online Students

    189618_617445568820_184905552_34969919_2545634_nLast Thursday, I wrote a post about online schools in Minnesota and the validity of their educational model. At the end of my brief thought (929 words), I offered to answer questions in later posts if readers would post questions in the comment section. Today’s post is a response to one of those questions.

    I would like to thank the reader who asked, “Can you please describe qualities of a student that make him/her either a good or not so good candidate for online schooling?”

    Parents are key.  The one quality that I see in successful students in the online setting has less to do with the students and much more to do with the parents.  The more involved the parents are in the oversight of the students’ progress, scheduling, and prioritization, the more successful the students are in online programming.  If parents see the online situation as one that allows for the students to put in hours of babysitting younger siblings, cleaning the house, or working outside of the home, the students will not see school as a priority and will also lack the support needed to complete the online.

    There is a lot of reading in the online setting.  Although this is becoming less of a necessity as curriculum authors integrate more screen readers and audio/visual aspects in the online curriculum, text remains the primary vehicle of getting information from author to student.  In addition, email and instant messaging/chat rooms are primary sources for students gaining help and engaging in discussions with teachers and other students.  Those who struggle with grade level reading may struggle with the online setting.  With the entry of screen readers into the education world, this has decreased some but not enough to leave this concern behind. If students do not like to read, they may not enjoy learning online.

    But there is more.  The more descript answer to this question truly is another brief post.  Unfortunately, some of the same qualities that make students great candidates for success in any classroom are what make them candidates for success in the online classroom.  Self-discipline, motivation, and the ability to work well with little guidance are three necessary qualities that come to mind right away when I hear this question.  And the same qualities that limit a student’s success in the traditional classroom will limit that student in the online classroom: lack of self-discipline, easily distracted, and unable to work well without constant redirection.

    Does this mean that students without motivation should stay away from the online school setting?  No.  Any student can change patterns and become more appropriate in the online setting.

    An illustration of a change in success would do well to prove this point. 

    As I have mentioned previously, my role as dean of students at Minnesota Virtual High School is to work with students who are not attending and help them to become in attendance by submitting assignments and making progress toward full course completion.  If they do not improve their attendance, I report them to their county of residence and let a social worker, county attorney, or judge assist me.  Sometimes this means that students learn how to be successful online students, and other times it means that they return to the traditional school with a daily (hourly) structure, constant in-person supervision, and more direction.  Each student is unique, and it is my job to remember that.

    About two months ago, I went to a diversion meeting for a middle school student who, at the time, logged on each week for about six hours.  We recommend that students put in 25 hours each week in order to be successful.  At the meeting, the student had many reasons (excuses) for not logging on to school, but the social worker did not accept any of those.  We told the student he could have three months to turn around his behavior or be ordered to go to traditional middle school each day.  For the first few weeks, the student’s behavior did not change.  The social worker made inquiries into the student’s progress, and I shared his progress with her.  We engaged the parent who was overwhelmed with this new way of doing school.

    Because the student could not create a plan for himself and because his parent could not do this either, I created the plan.  Our software actually does this for the students, but that – for some reason – was not enough for this student.  To be honest, many students find the calendar difficult.  And once a student is as far behind as this student, the calendar would feel overwhelming to anyone.  Imagine not doing any schoolwork for the first half of the year and now having to do twice as much work in order to finish.  This would intimidate most adults – and this child is in middle school!

    I printed out the class outlines for the student, divided the assignments by the days left in the semester, and assigned work to the student each day until the last day in the semester.  I paced the student to focus on one class at a time (because the student was so far behind) so that he could see successful completion of courses one at a time…cross the completed course off the list and feel good about it.

    The outcome? We are now a week from the end of the semester, and the student should complete all but possibly one class – the art class.  I wanted to focus on math and language arts classes rather than electives. If anything is not complete, we can deal with the art class.  And the student can always take the art class during the summer as we are a year-round school.

    When I emailed the mom and social worker to see if we needed to meet again, the answer was “no.”  The county will remove the student from their truancy intervention program as soon as our semester ends.  The student and the parent feel good about how to proceed now that they know how much time and effort it takes to complete school in the online setting. The student would rather be in our setting than the traditional setting because of a bullying situation (some kids put a snake in his locker!) at the school where he would attend.

    This student made a choice to change his behavior.  Although that is not always the case, it can be done.  Students who come to the online setting with self-discipline, motivation, and a hardworking attitude will do well.  Students who lack those qualities can definitely change their behavior.  If they do not change, then we counsel them back to a setting that will support them more appropriately.

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    Turns Out…I Had Walking Pneumonia…

    Short Post Friday is here!  It is the first time that I have officially celebrated Short Post Friday, but this is a good week to do it.  I have a lot going on (not like it’s the week before Christmas!!!), and – well – as the title says, I am also sick.

    In my post earlier this week, I mentioned that I experienced a crash over the weekend.  Or at least that is what I thought.  I went to the doctor on Wednesday because I had not slept the night before due to a dry, hacking cough and then a burning in my chest.  Turns out – I have walking pneumonia.  Lovely! The week before Christmas!  Just what I need as I wrap things up at work and at home before taking off for a week of time with family – some of whom are well into their eighties.  Being around them and contagious with a pneumonial (yes, I made that up)-type illness would not be good!  I am well medicated and on the mend.  Huzzah!

    The hard part about having bipolar disorder and then being sick is that it is hard to know which one is which and then which one came first in a weekend when I just crash.  I could have been crashing; it was about time for that.  And it turns out I was getting sick. So was the crash just sickness that I had not identified yet?  Or was the crash there and then making me susceptible to illness?  Either, both, or some combination seems to be quite possible.  And in the end, does it matter?  I obviously did not fight off the illness well even though I slept quite a bit over the weekend thinking it was a crash.  I just got sicker and ended up needing antibiotics!

    My daughter experienced something similar this summer while she was working at Village Creek Bible Camp in Iowa.  She has asthma, and summer camp seems to be wrought with the allergens which exacerbate her condition.  She is a great worker, though, and loves camp. She loves the kids, she loves family camp, and she loves her co-workers.  As the summer went on, she experienced a number of asthma related issues, spent some time in the small town ER (which, by the way, was awesome and much cheaper than our city hospitals!), and came home from the summer still not quite well.  Her illness-like self continued into the school year.  After she kept missing day after day, I pushed a doctor to a second mono test.

    Guess what?  She most likely had mono at some point over the summer.  So – what came first?  Asthma or mono?  It didn’t really matter because one masked the other.  Asthma does not require one to rest, but mono does.  Once the child can breathe again, all should be well…but it was not well, and she kept having symptoms that eventually left her in a weakened condition and another asthma attack.  But she had mono!

    This kind of thing happens all the time.  It is frustrating.  But – when it happens, it does make me think that we need to constantly be asking more questions and digging deeper.  Rarely is anything what it seems on the surface – with just about anything – and a little time and investigation will likely get to the root of the issue.  That is what needs to be addressed, and then all can be well.

    As I write this, I think of how true this is in a lot of things….and so much for the short post…

    (PS: this is a time when I am just seriously writing as I think…and my mind often takes an exit from one road and zooms down another – related but very different – highway.)

    I work for Minnesota Virtual High School, one of the largest online schools in Minnesota, as the dean of students.  In that role, I am mostly known as the truancy lady.  My job is to get kids to log on and do their schoolwork.  Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy, right?  So not.  Kids are kids.  And kids who avoid school do so for a reason.  It doesn’t really matter what the reason is, though, the law is that they have to go to school.  That’s all fine and dandy for the lawmakers, but it is not so easy for me.  If fining kids made them go back to school, we could just do that.  But – finding out what the root issue is … and then solving that … that is the key.

    I sat in a meeting recently where this was so true.  The student had issues that were not being addressed, so she quit doing schoolwork.  Guess what?  It got the parents’ attention when I sent that letter home saying we were going to court if this was not resolved.  As the story unraveled and needs were revealed, the parents agreed to some things and the student agreed to some things.  There was a lot of work involved for everyone, including some people at the school, but I am hopeful that this student will be successful.

    There you have it – a little lesson in Stacy’s racing mind.  Walking pneumonia and bipolar to asthma and mono ends a little family systems theory and school attendance issues.

    Can I hear an “uff da”????

    Happy Friday, all!

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