The 16-year-old who attended Tracy Unified School District schools was earning Bs, Cs and Ds and was saddled with a D-minus in algebra, despite attending an extra support class on top of his normal math class.
Then he enrolled in California Connections Academy, an all-online charter school that opened its first branch in San Joaquin County for the 2012-13 school year. According to his mother, Linda, his grades improved “immediately.”
“Ian has managed to keep an A-plus to an A-minus for Algebra 1 this entire school year,” she said. “That goes to show something’s working, and I’m sure it’s more than one thing.”
Keller said the school allows him to focus on his studies without the typical distractions of a physical classroom.
“There was too much going on — too much un-school-related things going on,” he said. “As a teenager, I don’t like school and everything, but when I go there I don’t go to talk about what he said and what she said — I go there to learn.”
Keller, who telecommutes from his kitchen table to the school site in Ripon, is one of 16 residents from Tracy or Mountain House attending the kindergarten-to-12th-grade public school.
He and the other 300 or so students receive lessons from teachers in various subjects in a virtual classroom setting. They watch the class on their computers and communicate via a headset provided by the school or through instant messages moderated by the teacher.
Keller said his classmates seem to share his mindset when it comes to their studies.
“The students aren’t there to screw around,” he said. “They’re there to learn.”
According to Principal Don Ogden, the school is chartered through the Ripon Unified School District and is open to any student in San Joaquin County or one of the seven adjacent counties.
The online academy, founded in 2002, has two other California branches, in Capistrano and Visalia, and is in more than 20 states.
Ogden said the Web-based structure means the school can offer classes a brick-and-mortar school can’t match, such as music lessons taught by an instructor at the renowned Julliard School of music in New York.
“Virtual technology allows us to work as a school without walls,” Ogden said. “We’re only bound by the talented people we’re able to hire, no matter where they live.”
He said the school also allows students to work ahead or behind the grade level in which they would typically be assigned according to age, he said.
Before a pupil starts at the academy, Ogden said he or she meets with administrators and teachers to craft a learning plan that matches the student’s academic needs.
“It makes a big difference,” he said. “Students really thrive here, because they’re able to work at their own pace. … Here, whatever grade you’re in — kindergarten through 12 — I offer those classes for all my students.”
The school also offers numerous field trips, so students can socialize in person.
Keller said the school’s structure allows him to work either in blocks of several hours at a time or stretched out over a number of days.
While the academy doesn’t take all the hassle out of going to school, he said its flexibility is a perk.
“I’m not exactly enthusiastic about having to do schoolwork, but I find it a lot easier to get up and know this is what I have to do,” he said. “And I feel better about doing it.”
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