Posted On: 2017-11-06 03:05 PM
Cara O'Donnell, for Edkey® Inc.
Angel Avis has 190 students this semester. They're learning about creative writing and composition, reading heralded works of literature and taking electives. They can reach Avis by phone, email, chat or virtual message to get guidance. And while they're never all in the same room, they know she's paying attention to their progress.
Students at Sequoia Choice Arizona Distance Learning might learn, predominantly, in "virtual" classrooms, but it doesn't mean they don't get one-on-one instruction and attention from their teachers, like Avis.
"One of the biggest myths that I've come across is that, for the lack of a better phrase, I'm a ghost in the machine," Avis said. "I've had students ask if I'm a real person and not a computer. Yes, I'm real. I'm very human. We're not a correspondence course where you just mail a bunch of answers. We're very interactive with our students."
Approximately 725 students in Arizona, grades K-12, attend Sequoia Choice Arizona Distance Learning. It's a 12-month school, which means a student can enroll any day to start learning. The concept isn't new – Sequoia Choice has been teaching students in Arizona since 1998.
"Our environment allows students to work through a self-pace," said principal Cindy Chleborad. "It's not like a regular classroom where a teacher, because of the group, has to move on to the next day. Kids get left behind when a teacher has to keep going. For us, the learning continues."
Sequoia Choice's students log in to a computer system for lessons and lectures. Depending on the grade and subject matter, students return assignments through the system or via email. But that doesn't mean the learning isn't personal, or productive.
"I like to say that we're distance learning, and the reason I say that is that 'online learning' implies you're reading online, and it's auto-graded," Chleborad said. "The curriculum is in an online environment. But we try to emulate the best practices of a classroom."
For Avis, that means holding lectures at set times – just like a "normal" classroom – in addition to holding office hours to receive phone calls, video chats and answer messages. In addition, she travels the state to attend Sequoia Choice's in-person education labs, where students can gather to learn together and complete homework together.
"I travel to different sites around the state to work with my students," Avis said. "I want them to have the chance to see me in person. Then I really become 'real.' It also makes me realize how the student learns. I keep a high standard – achievable, but high."
Students attend Sequoia Choice Arizona Distance Learning for a variety of reasons. Some are home-based learners who feel more comfortable in that environment. Others are students who move frequently and want a stable source of education. And then there are others who want to challenge themselves to accomplish something beyond just a high school diploma. Because of Sequoia Choice's flexibility, high school students can concurrently take college-level courses.
"One of the services we offer for our high school students is that we pay for them to attend community colleges," Chleborad said. "Last year in our graduating class we had eight kids who graduated with their associate's degree prior to graduating with their high school diploma. It happens every year – a parent calls to ask, 'Should the grandparents come to the college graduation or the high school graduation?'"
For Avis, graduation marks a time where she can see her students realize their goal. She's had students who chose Sequoia Choice for a variety of reasons – for credit recovery, to learn at a more manageable pace, or even to graduate high school while preparing for the Olympic trials.
"I really take that experience everyone brings to heart," Avis said. "While I might not be standing next to them every day, I want my students to know that I'm there. I'm continually surprised, amazed and thankful for my students. Every year at graduation is another eye-opener for me and what they've accomplished."
To learn more about Sequoia Choice Arizona Distance Learning, visit SequoiaChoice.org.
Members of the editorial and news staff of the USA TODAY Network were not involved in the creation of this content.