Originally published in The Norman Transcript-May 16, 2018
High school student Erika Maples traveled the world with her parents before settling in Norman.
Erika’s dad, Lee, met his wife, Noriko, while stationed with the U.S. Air Force in Okinawa, where their daughter was born.
Erika speaks English and Japanese and started playing the violin when she was in first grade. By that time, the family was living in Tokyo.
“They told me I had two weeks to find somewhere to live,” Lee said. “I’m from Oklahoma, so we moved back. My mom and sister found an apartment for us and reserved it so when we got here, we had someplace to live.”
Now, the family lives in a home on the north side of Norman. When they first arrived, Erika was 10 years old and in the second semester of her fourth-grade year. She attended Jefferson Elementary in Norman and then went on to Longfellow Middle School.
“Jefferson was fine, but at Longfellow, I started to have difficulties,” Erika said.
During her dad’s years in the military, Erika had mostly attended small schools on military bases. Department of Defense schools call in parents and hold them accountable for their children’s behavior, so kids tend to be well mannered and polite.
By contrast, a large public school seemed like a harsh environment and the treatment of some students toward each other was shocking to Erika, as were the numbers of people. She began to feel overwhelmed.
“There were so many students there, and once class ends, you have to go to another room,” she said. “It feels like there are just hundreds of kids crammed into the halls.”
Erika had attended Japanese schools in the summers, and the culture and politeness are very different than in the United States. Teachers here did not understand the struggle Erika was having with cultural differences and were not emotionally supportive, her dad said.
Lee said one teacher made a negative comment toward Erika because of her Japanese heritage, and she ended up in the counselor’s office crying.
That’s the day her father took her out of school.
“I found the Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy, and she went there for a while,” Lee said. “I looked for a public school online, and I looked for an orchestra for her to participate in here in the area.”
That search led to OU and Sooner Strings, which is taught by Beth Sievers. Sievers also conducts the Homeschool Strings program, where Erika also plays.
While the Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy was better for Erika than public school, it wasn’t a perfect fit. When the family found the Insight School of Oklahoma (ISOK), Erika’s luck began to change.
“ISOK is where she thrives,” Lee said.
ISOK is a tuition-free public school with state certified teachers.
ISOK allows students to choose the number of courses they want to take based on how much time they want to spend on extra-curricular activities. She no longer has to feel overwhelmed by her course load and she’s making friends in orchestra and through the virtual school’s interactive forum and life field trips.
“I think that’s a better fit for me,” Erika said.
The classes are virtual which allows her to interact with the teacher. The school also uses Blackboard, an interactive program that allows for teacher presentations and videos. Students can speak via microphone or type in the chat box to ask questions. Students can also interact with each other.
“It allows her to master those courses, having a smaller course load,” Lee said. “She pulls A’s on all of those classes and isn’t overloaded with course work.”
The online school also uses field trips to bring students together.
“At ISOK, we have outings each month,” she said. “It gives students a chance to get outside and learn.”
One field trip was a visit to a forensic science class at the University of Central Oklahoma, along with a tour. Another was to the Skirvin Hilton Hotel in downtown Oklahoma City, where they learned about hotel operations.
“Before Thanksgiving, they volunteered at the Food Bank,” Noriko said.
Parents joined those field trips to the Food Bank and participated.
“I thought that was a really good thing to have them do,” Lee said.
The students packaged food for families one time and another time filled backpacks for kids. Students also have visited university campuses.
“She’s in gifted and talented with ISOK, and they also do field trips,” Lee said.
Erika said she’s developed strong friendships through Sooner Strings and ISOK.
Lee said he wanted her to be able to attend public school in Oklahoma, and this is public school at home.
“This is public school,” Lee said. “The school office is located in Midwest City.”
Noriko said she likes that the school sends what the students need for their coursework, such as microscopes for science projects, a mineral kit and science labs.
“Other than science, they also send us textbooks for math and English and textbooks for social studies,” Erika said.
Lee said he sees other children from military families who do online school.
“It’s developed after the K-12 model,” Lee said.
That means military families who move around can stay in a similar system of online education programs.
“It’s a wonderful program,” Lee said. “When it comes time for testing, she’ll go somewhere for testing with a proctor.”
As an introvert, Erika thrives in the online and Sooner Strings environments.
“I’m shy at first, but then I get over it,” she said.
As a tenth-grader, she’s hoping to be a comic book illustrator or artist someday. She loves her violin but doesn’t want to perform professionally.
“Just because someone practices violin doesn’t mean they want to be a professional,” she said. “It’s just an important skill to have.”
Erika is currently taking lessons with the University of Oklahoma dean of music, plays in the Sooner Strings Orchestra as first chair and plays in a quartet with other online students and homeschooled students.
To learn more about Insight School of Oklahoma, visit https://ok.insightschools.net/