A charter school or home schooling are no longer the only alternatives for students who don’t fit into the traditional educational setting.
Students who step to a different drummer can now study and graduate from institutions such as the Southwest Colorado eSchool in Durango.
Southwest eSchool enrolls students from nine school districts in Archuleta, La Plata, Montezuma, San Juan and Dolores counties. The school, which opened in the fall 2011 semester, currently has 83 students.
The eSchool was established through San Juan BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services).
A partnership with the Jefferson County School District allows students to study less common subjects such as Chinese, marine biology and comprehensive computer science.
“We’re not an alternative school, we’re not a school for dropouts, we’re not an easier or more convenient way to graduate,” said Tod Lokey, who is director of the school.
“It’s hard to put eSchool students in a box,” Lokey said. “But they tend to be motivated, get family support, have moderate to solid technical skills and like to communicate in a different way.”
Students in online schools study independently and communicate with the instructor and other students electronically.
They must have a computer and high-speed Internet access, plug-ins for speakers, headphones and microphones and software for word processing and spreadsheet assignments.
Students also use Blackboard Collaborate, an interactive program through which students and teachers can send instant messages as well as share a whiteboard and each other’s screens.
“We have live sessions once a week for each class,” Lokey said.
Josh Frank fits right in.
“I did part online study when I lived in Brighton,” said Josh, 16, who is now a full-time online student at Southwest Colorado eSchool.
He was bent over a computer Wednesday at Southwest eSchool, which is housed in the Durango School District administration building at 201 E. 12th Street. But online students can access their class assignments wherever they have an Internet connection.
“In traditional school, students tend to mess around and talk to each other,” said Josh, a junior who expects to graduate next year. “I like smaller schools and a place I can study on my own schedule.”
Gwen Stroup with Jeffco 21st Century Virtual Academy was a high school math teacher from Arvada until about four years ago. She wrote curriculum for the academy until she began teaching.
“I wouldn’t go back to a traditional school,” said Stroup, who took time from talking with Lokey via Blackboard Collaborate, the online Web-conferencing system, to discuss her job.
“I feel I get to know my students better now,” Stroup said. “I communicate one-on-one, and I can give more feedback.”
Southwest Colorado eSchool is open to students ages 12 to 20 and who are eligible to begin seventh to 12th grade. They can be full-time eSchool students, part-time eSchool students also enrolled at a district school, gifted students or home-schoolers.
Online courses are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Teachers are available Monday through Friday for consultation.
Enrollment is limited to spring and fall, Lokey said, because late entry makes catch-up too difficult.