Originally published in the Idaho State Journal – August 15, 2018
The vast majority of students in Idaho attend traditional, brick-and-mortar schools from preschool to high school graduation. However, last year more than 6,000 students attended school in their own homes. But rather than being taught by their parents like in homeschooling, they are taught by teachers and attend state accredited schools.
Students wishing to attend school online may enroll through school districts or charter schools. Idaho Virtual Academy (IDVA), Idaho’s largest online school, is a public charter school serving nearly 2,000 students from kindergarten to 12th grade.
Since its opening over 15 years ago, IDVA has seen immense growth, according to Kelly Edginton, the head of school at IDVA.
“Our school has really changed and evolved since we opened in 2002,” Edginton said. “It’s a great option for many families, and I’m happy we can be here for families that want to come and that need us.”
Edginton said kids and parents choose online schooling for a variety of reasons. Many IDVA students are athletes looking for a more flexible schedule, victims of bullying at brick-and-mortar schools, students with health issues and special education students.
IDVA has higher than average special education numbers, with special education students making up 15 percent of the school’s population.
IDVA also has a separately accredited alternative school, Vision High School, for at-risk students. Edginton said many are parents or students in other extenuating circumstances who find it easier to attend school online.
Brock Keller, a recent IDVA graduate from Pocatello, said he chose to attend the online school during his senior year in order to graduate on time.
During his junior year, Keller attended high school in France through Rotary International, and upon returning back to the United States, he said the school district told him all of his credits would not transfer, and he would have been unable to graduate on time without taking summer classes.
“Coming back, I just wanted something a little new and different and a little more flexible so I could graduate on time,” Keller said.
He attended two classes at Highland High School, where he had previously gone, at the same time he was taking classes from IDVA, which he said helped him adjust to online schooling.
“It definitely put a lot more responsibility on me as far as having to get my stuff done myself,” Keller said. “Everything (at IDVA) is super efficient.”
Communication between teachers and students is key at IDVA, according to Christina Jorgensen, an IDVA teacher from Chubbuck.
“We make lots of phone calls and send lots of emails to let the students know we are aware of them, and we care about them,” Jorgensen said. “They’re not just a number to us.”
Jorgensen, who taught at a brick-and-mortar school for two years before switching to IDVA, said her approach to teaching is similar to a traditional school, but she feels online teaching allows her more room to individualize her lessons to meet the needs of each student.
“I can personalize a lot of stuff,” Jorgensen said. “I have a little more flexibility that I think I didn’t have in the brick-and-mortar because it’s just not available. You just don’t have the time.”
Students at IDVA are taught using live classes, where the teacher is on a video stream, and students can follow along and interact with other students in the class.
When they are registered for IDVA, students receive a laptop, printer and all their textbooks for free, which Keller said was another aspect of the school he appreciated.
“Sometimes the textbooks at traditional schools are really old and kind of falling apart,” Keller said. “At IDVA everything is really new and nice.”
Keller was one of 180 students who graduated from IDVA this year. The online school holds three graduation ceremonies throughout the state and even has a prom, as well as near monthly outings to give students an opportunity to socialize with their fellow classmates.
“There’s a reason why our school is available,” Jorgensen said. “It offers a different avenue for students, and I think in that way, it gives the students a little more confidence. I have to step outside of my comfort zone a bit, but I love that I’m able to individualize with students.”
To learn more about Idaho Virtual Academy, visit https://idva.k12.com/.