Archive for Wednesday, December 19, 2001

Charter school earns state accreditation

December 19, 2001

Four years ago, the Basehor-Linwood school district became the first public school in the nation to establish an Internet-based charter school curriculum through which children could be educated at home.

Now, Basehor-Linwood's VCS has become the nation's first virtual charter school to receive state accreditation for its program, which serves children in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Brenda DeGroot, director, termed last week's accreditation "unofficial," saying the VCS didn't have to comply with all regulations for regular public schools, because of the inherent differences between the two types of programs.

But, she said, the VCS has achieved goals and objectives established during the planning stages.

"Meeting those goals and objectives is part of that accreditation process," DeGroot said.

Now the VCS, like other Kansas public schools must go through the accreditation process every five years.

Controlled growth

For $30 in computer rental and $40 in textbook rental from the school district, parents across Kansas can enroll their children in the VCS. In turn, the state reimburses the Basehor-Linwood school district the amount that would be paid if the child were attending the bricks-and-mortar school. Moreover, VCS students who complete the 12th grade, even if they live in western Kansas, will be graduates of Basehor-Linwood High School.

During the VCS's first year, the program enrolled 63 students. The next year, there were 300, and this year and last, the number was in the 360s.

DeGroot said the district deliberately slowed the phenomenal growth for this school year. Everything was happening too fast, she said.

"We could have grown, but we wanted to maintain our enrollment and focus on the quality of our program," DeGroot said. "If we grow too fast our students will suffer."

Parent's perspective

Melanie Dearing, Shawnee, is home-schooling four children, two in elementary school and two in high school, through the VCS. She also home-schooled her oldest child, now in college.

Dearing, who has a master's degree in education and taught in an inner-city high school before embarking on home-schooling, says parents' and schools' openness to new forms of education will continue.

When Dearing started home-schooling, the VCS didn't exist. She wrote her own curriculum and spent $3,000 for teacher and student editions of textbooks and other supplies. The process was more intensive than she had imagined.

Part of the curriculum she developed was for her oldest son to read a newspaper each day and give an oral report on a news story.

"He was the one who found the article about Basehor in the newspaper," Dearing said.

Dearing said she hesitated before contacting the VCS. For a month and a half, she said, she kept calling DeGroot to ask various questions about the program.

"I grilled her," Dearing said. "I was turning over every stone trying to find a flaw and I couldn't find any."

Now with four children in the VCS, Dearing has become further immersed in the program, as she works as the VCS parent liaison.

The many benefits

One benefit, she said, is that children can take achievement tests through the school district. Another, she said is that the children can receive the same educational benefits as other children who attend school in the Basehor-Linwood schools. This includes testing for learning disabilities.

For instance, Dearing said one of her children was showing signs of being dyslexic. Because he is a VCS student, he was tested at the Basehor-Linwood schools.

To help him learn to read, it was suggested he use a computer program available to district students. The program, Dearing said, came with a computer.

"It's specifically for students with reading problems," Dearing said. "It actually helps reconnect those neurons in the brain that were slow and speeds them back up."

After one week, she said the program seemed to be helping.

"I am absolutely in awe that we as home-school parents have the option to hook into programs like this," Dearing said. "That and the fact that my son can hook into it at home."

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