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Going a Different Route 

Bend-La Pine Online offers an alternative approach to learning

As the summer starts winding down, it's time once again to think about education.

While most kids enjoy some aspect of school—the actual learning, seeing friends or developing relationships with teachers—the typical brick-and-mortar classroom setting doesn't allow all children to be successful. Bend-La Pine Schools realizes this and offers an online program for all students, kindergarten through senior year of high school, who wish to approach education from a different angle.

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There are many reasons why families choose to enroll their children in Bend-La Pine Online, says Amy Tarnow, the assistant director of Instructional Technology and Online Programs. Their child may have other skills or talents they are focusing on in addition to their schooling (like athletics), they may have a health condition that would make spending all day in a classroom setting difficult or their learning styles might not allow them to learn and thrive in a traditional classroom, among other things. Parents do not have to specify why they are choosing to enroll their child in Bend-La Pine Online—it is considered a mainstream option just like a brick-and-mortar school.

"There are lots of families in Bend with a flexible work schedule, and they want their kids to have that as well," Tarnow says. "Families in Bend like to make choices about the school their child attends."

Bend-La Pine Schools offers choice options, which are schools with special programs (such as Dual Immersion or magnet schools). These schools offer programs that teach content in a significantly different way than traditional methods. One of these options is the Bend-La Pine Online program.

Unlike other online schools or programs, which might be open to students all over Oregon, Bend-La Pine Online is just an extension of the schools in the area. During the 2018-2019 school year it served more than 4,000 students. Of those 4,000, there were about 700 who got the bulk of their learning through Bend-La Pine Online, Tarnow says.

"We believe the Bend-La Pine Schools staff can serve the needs of those students in an arena that is better than other places like a brick-and-mortar school," she said. This is not a reflection on teachers in brick-and-mortar schools though—it is just an understanding that while a traditional classroom setting works well for most students, it does not serve 100 percent of the students in the district.

True to the flexibility it offers, Bend-La Pine Online really allows students to take their education into their own hands. Students are given a set amount of work they must complete every 10 days, and turning in that works acts as a check-in, Tarnow says. If they are idle for more than 10 days, a teacher within Bend-La Pine Online will reach out, and students can get dropped from the program. Tarnow explains that it is set up like this so students can't put the whole thing off for a semester and then try to complete it the weekend before it's due.

"It takes the right kind of kid and the right kind of family to keep kids on track," she says about the program.

The only limitation to the program is the semester beginnings and endings—because the course work is not always offered in the same order online, students cannot transfer their work from a brick-and-mortar school to an online school midway through the semester.

Contrary to what people may think, the content offered through Bend-La Pine Online is not any more difficult or easier than what students are learning in a brick-and-mortar classroom. Tarnow says it is not a shortcut at all, and the outcome is truly determined by student commitment.

In addition to being an alternative to a brick-and-mortar school in the district, Bend-La Pine Online also offers additional classes, mostly electives, that are not offered in traditional schools in the district. Tarnow says there are foreign language electives as well as some art electives that are only offered online.

"We do not want to compete with brick-and-mortar schools—we are trying to complement them," Tarnow says. "We want to serve students in all ways and needs."

Registration for Bend-La Pine Online for the 2019-2020 school year will open on August 25, and there is no limitation to the number of students who can attend. For more information, visit bend.k12.or.us/Bend-La-Pine-Online.

Willamette Connections Online

For families who are interested in other online options, Willamette Connections Academy is a new online charter school through the Scio School District in Oregon. For the 2019-2020 school year, it will serve students all over Oregon, including those in the Bend–La Pine district from Kindergarten to 12th grade. 

This school plans to enroll around 200 students this fall. The curriculum focuses on student-led learning, offering core and elective classes, as well as AP and Career Technical Education classes

Enrollment for Willamette Connections Academy opened on May 29. For more information please visit connectionsacademy.com.

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