School 2.0: Kids Go Online to Learn

Online education continues to gain in popularity, but this trend is not just taking hold among college students. Though some have reservations about the idea, much younger students are now discovering the convenience and low cost of virtual learning.

Seven-year-old Alexandria Jenkins is in the second grade and attends public school at a computer in her family's living room. She's a student at the Georgia Virtual Academy, an online K-8 grade school.

On a recent day, the lesson was about synonyms. Alexandria's teacher, Danyelle Lynch, was 50 miles away, but could be heard over the Jenkins' computer speaker.

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Lynch asked, "What did we say synonyms are?"

Speaking into a microphone, Alexandria answered, "Synonyms are same."

The back-and-forth continued effortlessly for hours as the teacher interacted with her student on the computer screen.

It's all possible thanks to fast Internet connections and computer software sent to each family.

Kelly Morando, a former brick-and-mortar teacher, now works for the Georgia Virtual Academy supervising Alexandria's teacher and dozens of others. She, too, works from home, in Cumming, Ga., some 40 miles away from the Jenkins family and 70 miles from Alexandria's teacher.

"We have students from all over the state, so we're really seeing a true picture of what students in Georgia look like, because there is no other school that can say that," Morando said.

"You are not dealing with that daily discipline issue," she added. "That's probably the biggest difference, just the noise. The noise factor isn't there."

Morando said that not having to deal with discipline issues, teachers have more time to focus on learning.

"Then you're not spending your time disciplining and redirecting students to behave correctly, so you're really being able to focus all of your attention on just teaching and not worrying about kids needing to use the rest room, get up to sharpen their pencil," Morando said. "It's all about just teaching."

And the school is popular. The Georgia Virtual Academy has quickly become the largest public school in Georgia, with 4,400 students. No other public school in the state -- grade school or high school -- has more students.

Parents 'Absolutely Love It'

Alexandria's parents, My'rna and William Jenkins, say they "absolutely love it."

"You are not pressured with time. They also make sure the children know the subject before they move on," said William Jenkins. "One of the things that I was kind of wondering about is this -- whether it was like home schooling. And it's not home schooling. You're actually in an academy. It's just virtual."

There are a growing number of educators who believe this type of learning will replace a significant number of traditional classrooms. In the last few weeks, school systems in Hawaii, Salt Lake City and Chicago have gone ahead with plans to offer Internet classes to families.

"We have attendance requirements," said Matt Arkin, the head of school, which is like a principal, at the Georgia Virtual Academy. "Our students have to attend classes for 180 days. During the school year, they have to attend classes for between 4.5 and 5.5 hours during the day."

Using Tax Dollars for Online Education

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