Archive for Wednesday, March 1, 2000

District nets homeschoolers

Basehor-Linwood program one handful in the United States

March 1, 2000

Turning the state into one large classroom of homeschoolers is not the goal of the Basehor-Linwood school district.

In fact, Brenda DeGroot, principal at Basehor-Linwood Virtual Charter School, said she doesn't try to recruit parents to school their children at home.

But to help those who do, she said, she'd like to clone her district's program for other districts across Kansas.

"We want to share what we're doing," DeGroot said. "We don't want to just keep it here."

Realizing that home schools are here to stay and making a wild guess that there may be as many as 20,000 home-schooled children in Kansas, DeGroot said the Basehor-Linwood district decided to provide resources for those parents and students.

For a small fee, the district provides an educational framework for parents and students to follow as the children are taught at home.

Nationwide, only two or three school districts offer virtual charter schools to students in kindergarten through high school, Basehor-Linwood officials said.

It doesn't matter if the VCS students live in Salina, Hiawatha or Chanute. As long as they are homeschoolers, they can apply to enroll.

Moreover, because Kansas recognizes this as an official arm of the Basehor-Linwood school district, the district receives the state's allotment of $3,700 per pupil enrolled in the VCS, no matter where the student lives.

DeGroot said the VCS started 1 1/2 years ago. At the time she took it on, she already was working as high school assistant principal and athletic director.

"My administrators said if we got six students, we would run the program," DeGroot said. "By September 20, we had 63 students. And by January, they pulled me out of the high school and made me full time here."

By last fall, the enrollment mushroomed to 308 students and the territory expanded from six to 26 counties, ranging as far west as Reno County in southcentral Kansas.

The program is more than self-supporting.

"We received a little over a million dollars from the state this year," said Dave Pendleton, Basehor-Linwood superintendent.

Because the district already had so many computers in place within its schools, the VCS costs the district about $700,000 to operate.

"We were all amazed at the response," DeGroot said. "We continue to be amazed."

Pendleton said he is proud of his district's tenacity in starting up the virtual charter school.

"From the very beginning, we knew that there was a large market out there of students across the state that weren't being served," Pendleton said.

Each day, Pendleton receives about 15 inquiries from administrators across the country.

This is a trend that will eventually become rooted into the American household, Pendleton predicted.

"America's home is changing. In the next five to 10 years dad, or mom, will be doing some part of their jobs at home, at least one-third of the shopping will take place at home and at least a portion of every child's education will take place at home."

Here's how the program works.

The family that is home-schooling must provide Internet access in their homes. They pay a $20 fee for computer rental and a $40 fee per child for textbook rental.

In turn, the Basehor-Linwood VCS puts a computer in the family's home and provides textbooks that are used in the school district.

Further, the school puts a computer not only on the desktop of every teacher in the district, but also in each of the teachers' homes. Teachers in the district have built student-accessible websites that include lesson plans, assignments and other projects.

Tests are designed by the teachers. Students take regular tests on the Internet and final exams at testing centers the district has set up locally and in Wichita and Salina.

Surprisingly, DeGroot said the teachers' websites have made a huge impact on the students who attend regular classes in the school district.

"For instance, our students in our classroom here can go into Mr. Anderson's junior English class website at home or in the library and pull up what they're doing in class," DeGroot said. "This program is not only for our virtual students, but for our students in classrooms here."

In addition, DeGroot said, teachers are learning to reserve the school district's computer labs so that entire classes may take the Internet-based tests together.

This , DeGroot said, is the purpose of the charter program.

"The purpose of the charter school law was to give schools the opportunity to step outside of the box and to create something that may, in fact, impact public education," DeGroot said.

The entire district helps administer the VCS, DeGroot said.

DeGroot said she has heard only positive feedback.

"I think that's because our efforts are not to take kids out of public education," DeGroot said. "In fact, if they do come from public education, we ask that the school's administration recommend them to us. So we're connecting with a group of people who are not currently enrolled in public education."

This brings her back to the topic of funding.

"We're not taking any state funding away from another school district because no one else was getting that state funding anyway," DeGroot said.

The main expenses of the program stem from the necessary infrastructure.

"We don't have the building or the mortar," DeGroot said. "But we do have a $1,300 computer in every one of our student's homes and we have the challenge of trying to have a website established that can service students in their homes."

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