Education graphic

Online classes aren’t just for college students anymore.

Iowa Connections Academy offers online classes for Iowa students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The full-time virtual public school currently serves about 460 students throughout the state.

The academy opened in 2012 and operates in partnership with Cumberland-Anita-Massena Community School District. The state treats (and funds) the academy like a school within the school district, said Staci Hupp, chief of bureau communications and information services at the Iowa Department of Education.

The school is accredited by the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement, an accrediting division of AdvancEd. The school is state-funded, so students interested in the program can open-enroll like they would in another school district. Teachers are certified in the state of Iowa.

“We provide kids a flexible schedule without compromising the standards of the curriculum,” said Trisha Dobel of Omaha, who teaches history to sixth- through ninth-graders through Iowa Connections Academy.

Classes are livestreamed through Adobe Connect and are interactive, Dobel said. That allows students to ask questions and participate in discussions and class activities.

“In the live lessons, they can speak, if they want to use the webcam,” she said.

Some students prefer to type messages, Dobel said.

“The smaller the group, the more we encourage the use of webcams,” she said.

Classes use livestreaming at least once a week, said Allie Schuetze of Council Bluffs, an Iowa Connections Academy student.

“We get the opportunity to talk to our teacher and see them face to face,” she said.

Schuetze, now a high school freshman, attended Treynor Community Schools through sixth grade, she said.

“At school, I felt like they weren’t really supporting my way of learning,” she said. “They expect everyone to learn in the same way, and a lot of people don’t.”

Schuetze also felt some students made the atmosphere negative.

“In school, I got the good and the bad, and now I can just choose the good,” she said.

Schuetze misses some of her schoolmates but can still socialize with them outside of school. She continues to play volleyball and work on her baton twirling at a private school.

Even though students don’t see their teachers in person very often, Schuetze feels the teachers do a good job of supporting students by being willing to take calls from students anytime. They’re “there to help me when I need help in school,” she said. She has also met some of her teachers on field trips, although she hasn’t been on one recently.

The school holds “meet-your-teacher” and other social events, and teachers organize field trips, Dobel said. Her students have visited the Union Pacific Railroad Museum, a “Nutcracker” performance in Des Moines and the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in south-central Iowa. Students are responsible for their own transportation for the voluntary field trips.

“We try and hit up as many areas as possible,” she said.

Dobel has met about 35 of her students so far this fall and will have more opportunities throughout the year.

“A lot of them you develop very strong relationships with them,” she said.

Students can also participate in sports and other activities in their home districts.

Each student’s education plan can be adjusted to accommodate their needs, Dobel said. If a student has trouble keeping up, assignments can be modified to focus on core requirements.

Students who have benefited the most from the approach have included children receiving cancer treatment, athletes who participate in private gymnastic, hockey and other sports and students who are hard of hearing, as well as those who are ahead of most others and need greater challenges, Dobel said.

For more information, call 800-382-6010 or visit the school’s website at https://www.connectionsacademy.com/iowa-online-school.

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