“It was overwhelming for us ... so we were looking for something else,” she said.
She and her son, James, 13, found the Nevada Connections Academy, an online public school.
“When I pulled him out of Shaw Middle School, I’d been trying to communicate with teachers and most wouldn’t answer me at all,” Hansen said. “By the time I got through all of that, he was failing almost every class. But within two months over at Connections — he came in mid-quarter — he had all As and Bs.”
The Nevada Connection Academy, now in its second year, is offering students and parents an online alternative to the traditional public school “brick and mortar” setting, where young scholars can enjoy the flexibility of learning and studying wherever and whenever they want to. One of two Sparks presentations on Tuesday night gave parents and students a chance to find out how NCA works.
The academy offers free public education to students in kindergarten to 12th grade. Teachers, who work out of offices throughout the state, must be licensed for the subject in which they teach. Core subjects and electives are available just as in a traditional school, and there are even Gifted and Talented and special education programs. Connections Academy schools are operated under contract to non-profit organizations that are either charter schools, school districts, or governmental entities.
But what sets NCA apart is the fact that kids can learn and study in front of a computer instead of in a desk in a real classroom.
The school pays for each family to have one computer, printer, set of headphones and an Internet subsidy so students can go online. The subsidy is sent by check three times a year to the family and NCA is able to provide for a family’s Internet access. While the academy is given a transportation budget like other school districts, it does not have buses so it can spend the money how it sees fit.
Some families, NCA English teacher Reva Rindy said on Tuesday, may choose to waive the computer because they prefer to use their own. However, many may accept the academy’s equipment because it comes fully loaded with the necessary software.
“Tuition is free,” Rindy said, “but you’ll always need to buy your own ink and paper. However, we wouldn’t require students to take physical education classes without offering jumpropes.”
Textbooks also are free to parents and students, even with access to literature online. One benefit about the books is they are selected by quality, not because of a contract with a publisher, said Brye Hart, a special ed and sign language teacher.
“We don’t necessarily have to stick with McGraw,” she said. “We can mix and match.”
Hansen likes the school so much, she’ll be enrolling her two younger children, Jessica, 13, and Nicholas, 11, for the fall semester. Nicholas is an active gymnast, so the ability to study on the road when he attends meets will be important next year, Hansen said.
“It doesn’t make the kids fit the system,” Hansen said. “This system works better at fitting the kids and the family.”
Students are monitored by their teachers and have access to them through their own e-mail accounts. They can also join together with their teacher in live lessons in which the teacher interacts by phone or chat in a “classroom” meeting at the teacher’s designated times. However, if a student is “absent,” sessions are recorded so they can catch up later.
However a student chooses to manage their study time, they must complete 28 hours from Sunday to Saturday and those hours and times of participation are logged.
Flexibility and accountability are key for the academy. Jerry Krummel, principal of the Nevada Connections Academy and former teacher of the Oregon Connections Academy, said the biggest advantage for students is working on their own timetable.
“If a high school kid gets a job and the job is 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., then he can go to school from 1 to 6 in the evening, or vice versa,” he said.
It also accommodates students who have special circumstances or other activities that require a lot of traveling.
“In Nevada, we have quite a few students who are performers, and by performers, that can mean they’re in professional sports or being in entertainment,” Krummel said. “There are a lot of different ways that a student might be involved and they may need to travel and take a laptop.”
Other families that are exploring the possibilities of enrolling a child in the school have other reasons.
Jessica Snodgrass and Sean Delmore of Reno said their 13-year-old daughter has a tendency to socialize too much in the classroom and they want to help her focus more on her studies in a more independent learning environment.
“I liked it, it looks really good and they seem to have it really well-organized,” Snodgrass said. “They’re all accountable and that’s been a thing, too, with my daughter.”
Delmore added that the accountability would be helpful because there are often conflicting stories between their student and her teachers. Snodgrass said her child might not like going to an online school at first but feels she will adapt in time.
“I know she wouldn’t like it at first because she does so much socializing, but eventually she might,” Snodgrass said. “She loves playing on the computer anyway.”
Chris Souza, 16, of Spanish Springs, had many questions about the program at Tuesday’s presentation. His motivation for checking out an online school is because he prefers to spend his evenings on the computer and often has trouble staying awake during the daytime, for which he has seen a doctor, his mother, Julie Wodke, said.
“My internal clock is set differently,” Souza said.
Debating whether to try the online platform, Souza said he might be missing out on the social activities at a traditional school.
“Maybe if I could get a job during the day, too, because that would help with the social part,” he said.
But flexibility doesn’t help just the students. It also fares well for the teachers, who feel like they are able to give more individualized attention to students who need their help than in the traditional setting.
Joe Thomas, a history teacher with about 225 students this year, opted not to go the traditional way in his first year of teaching last August.
“It gives a lot more flexibility to work with students individually and you can design your own lesson,” Thomas said. “It also helps a lot of students that need (a particular) course so they don’t necessarily miss the opportunities.”
Krummel said the school is not necessarily a “one size fits all” approach.
“Some students that come to us try it and say this isn’t working for me ... but generally the students who use this platform do really well, grades go up and participating is excellent,” Krummel said. “I look at it from the standpoint that there are a lot of different opportunities for people to get an education, more than there were 40 years ago when I was in school.”
Another information session on the school will be on May 20 at 6:30 p.m. at the Sparks Senior Center, 97 Richards Way. The next session begins Aug. 31.
For more information about Nevada Connections Academy, visit www.connectionsacademy.com.