Oklahoma Connections Academy, a tuition-free online charter school, reported a 300 percent increase in families expressing interest in enrollment over last year, due to the presence of COVID-19 across the state.
And even though the enrollment window has just opened, they have seen an uptick in actual enrollments over last year as well.
OCA School Leader Melissa Gregory said students have historically chose Oklahoma Connections Academy for a multitude of reasons, health concerns among them.
Some struggle in a brick-and-mortar classroom because they don’t get enough individualized instruction. Some are athletes pursuing Olympic dreams in figure skating and gymnastics with practice and competitions during typical school hours. Some are students working full-time jobs to help support their families. Some students join to access Advanced Placement courses they can’t get in their home district, or leave their home district to escape bullying.
OCA has been accredited and operating in the state of Oklahoma for 10 years, with teachers dedicated to virtual education.
While many school districts are offering virtual options for students this year, Gregory said Oklahoma Connections Academy stands out because, “we’re not trying to take a brick and mortar class and turn it into a virtual setting. We are in a virtual setting completely. That is what our whole system is built around. We’re not trying to put a square peg in a round whole.”
“Our teachers are so good at thinking outside the box, and making it feel like they are sitting right next to the student,” Gregory said. “The big question is always math. ‘How am I going to learn math in virtual school?’ And I say math is one of things we pride ourselves in, because we have all these cool tools your teacher can use, and it really feels like your teacher is sitting right next to you.”
Students enrolled in OCA receive their entire semester of work up front, with a plan for how to accomplish all of it by the last day. Students work independently, at their own pace and times, according to the plan for what they need to accomplish that week.
Four out of five days of the week, the teachers have open office hours where students can schedule time for one-on-one instruction, as it is needed.
One day a week, teachers have a live-lesson chat room, where they can teach the specifics of an assignment or section of the course to a small group of students. During one-on-one and live-lessons, teachers use screen sharing and document cameras to walk students through the lesson.
The small group and one-on-one atmosphere are maintained, specifically, to ease student anxiety and make them comfortable with asking for the help they need.
“If a student is in a small group, or even one-on-one with a teacher, there is a different kind of comfort level,” Gregory said. “If they are in a huge class, or a huge setting with lots of kids, they are not going to speak up as often.”
Small groups are also beneficial from a teacher’s perspective, Gregory said. “The teacher gets more out of the kid working one-on-one or in a small group, because they more time to look individually at that student than trying to manage all of those students at one time.”
For seniors, the last day of enrollment is October 9. All other grades are open for enrollment through November 9.
“I know there are numerous options out there,” Gregory said. “We love what we do, we’ve been doing this for 10 years, and I’ve just got to say, these teachers are some of the best people I’ve ever worked with. They love kids, and they will do anything to help students succeed.”
To parents still deciding on the best option for their kids in the upcoming year, Gregory said, “Check us out, give us a call, look into it, get all the information before you start the process. We would love to talk to you more about our school.”