Online students, teachers and parents from across the state visited Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center on Tuesday, on a field trip meant to augment online classes.

The trip, organized through Oklahoma Connections Academy (OCA), is part of a series of such visits meant to offer social interaction and hands-on learning for students who have enrolled in online classes as an alternative to traditional public schools.

According to the school’s website, “Oklahoma Connections Academy is a tuition-free, high-quality, highly accountable virtual public school serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade throughout Oklahoma.”

The accredited online school system offers students and their parents an online option, which can be “an alternative for children who are ahead or behind in the classroom, those who want more individualized instruction, or students who would benefit from a flexible school schedule.”

Jan Martin, a sixth- and seventh-grade math teacher for OCA, organized the trip to the heritage center Tuesday for students and their families to meet in person, to learn from the exhibits and socialize with their peers.

Martin taught for 30 years with Enid Public Schools, at the middle and high school levels, before taking a position with OCA.

“It was a change for me,” Martin said. “I’m a real believer that every individual needs to have an education, and this opened another path for me to provide that.”

Martin said she had to change the way she teaches, but feels she’s just as able to convey knowledge to students through the online classes as she was in a traditional classroom.

“The curriculum is all there for the students, and I’m really more of a tutor,” she said. “I am there to help them with all the lessons, and I can work from home, and it was just a great opportunity for me.”

Students have more control over when they study, and the pace of their work, but have access by email, phone and live online sessions with teachers.

Martin said it takes more discipline and initiative from the students than is required in a traditional classroom, and is not an easy alternative to traditional classes.

“A lot of people think they can just go online and it’s going to be easy,” she said. “It’s not easy. It’s a hard curriculum.”

Paulette Roberts, of Enid, said she enrolled her eighth-grade daughter Faith in OCA partly because of what she perceives as a more demanding curriculum.

“It’s a lot more stringent,” Paulette said. “She actually has to study, and I think the requirements through the computer-based school are a lot more stringent than a brick-and-mortar school.”

The flexibility in choosing which areas to study first, and when to complete her lessons, has had an added benefit for Faith, Paulette said.

“She’s learned a lot of responsibility by having to be responsible for when she’s going to study the different parts of her lessons for the day,” she said. “It’s her responsibility to contact her teachers if she’s having trouble. I don’t do that for her, and I think that helps develop her for adulthood, because her mother isn’t going to be with her forever.”

In spite of the increased freedom and online format, Faith said she’s never felt there was a shortage of instruction or support from her teachers at OCA.

“If we need help, we just click on a button and it takes us to the live lesson room, and we can talk about the lesson for that day,” she said.

The online format is “much better,” she said, because “You get to learn at your own pace.”

Mercedes Lyon, of Oklahoma City, chose OCA for her eighth-grade daughter Teresa because of that ability to tailor the pace of instruction to a child’s needs.

Lyon said Teresa was diagnosed last year with a learning disability, but didn’t have an individualized education program (IEP) to account for her learning disability until almost the end of the school year.

“She spent all of seventh grade drowning, basically,” Lyon said. “Since she was going into the eighth grade I was looking for a better situation for her to be in school.”

OCA has allowed Lyon to work with Teresa’s teachers to design a pace of instruction that’s flexible enough to meet her daughter’s needs.

“She has special teachers just dedicated for her, and she’s finally going at her own pace,” Lyon said. “If we need to go up we can go up, and all of her teachers have been very encouraging. Instead of saying, ‘This is the best she’s going to do,’ they have the attitude that ‘The sky’s the limit,’ and ‘Let’s see how high she can go.’”

Lyon said online school may not be the best fit for everyone, but it has been a good move for her and Teresa.

“It’s been very positive,” Lyon said. “They’ve been great from the beginning. I don’t think it’s for everyone, but for us it’s been a very good choice.”

For more information on OCA, visit Oklahoma ConnectionsAcademy.com.

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