Some families in the Waxahachie area have joined a trend of enrolling their children in public schools online.

One of those is Connections Academy, a virtual public school for elementary through high school grades, where students attend lessons with teachers, take tests, do homework at their own pace and participate in extracurricular activities, all online.

The school operates statewide and is like a traditional bricks and mortar school, abiding by the same state and federal requirements for public schools. Students are required to attend school for a required number of days, complete the required number of hours of instruction and follow the school calendar.

Connections Academy reports students enroll with it for a variety of reasons. Some of the students are actors or athletes who have to travel quite a bit. Others have parents whose jobs require a great deal of travel. There also are students who have physical disabilities that make it difficult to sit in a classroom for eight hours a day. 

“And there are families that are just looking for a different option,” a spokesman said, saying the program “is very different than home schooling.  Rather, this is a home-based learning environment.”

Waxahachie resident Karen Campbell has two children enrolled at Connections Academy in fifth and sixth grade.

“My children were in private school, but we couldn’t afford it long-term,” Campbell said. “I was pretty apprehensive about Connections Academy at first, but after looking at their website to see how the curriculum and lessons were designed, I was amazed with the quality.”

At the beginning of the year, new students are tested and given their curriculum based on their test results. A Connections Academy teacher works with the parent and student to develop an individual learning plan, provide instruction, and evaluate assignments. Students are still required to meet all of the state and federal requirements to graduate, including state assessment tests.

“My children begin their school day at 9 a.m. and are done around noon,” Campbell said. “They study one subject a day, so that they don’t have to jump around and can focus on one subject for a few hours every day at their own pace.”

Connections Academy employs certified teachers, who design students’ lesson plans and instruct students through LiveLesson, a real-time video and interactive learning program. LiveLesson allows teachers to interact with students face-to-face and watch them complete lessons.

Sallie Benazzouz is one of Connections Academy’s advisory teachers; she tutors and counsels students with disabilities or who need extra instruction.

“If a student is having problems or not understanding a lesson, we have the ability to jump in and write on a white board to show them how to do something or call them and walk them through it,” she said.

According to Benazzouz, the lessons are set up to present the student and learning coach with a list of learning objectives first and then the student watches a short video or plays a quiz game as an attention-grabber. The in-depth learning part of the lesson is next and students read a chapter from one of the textbooks or complete work online. The lesson ends with an assessment in the form of a quiz or test to see if the student learned the material. Some lessons require research or projects, taking several days to complete.

Connections Academy provides extracurricular activities and clubs like chess, robotics, literary and art clubs, and volunteer and service clubs. Students also have an opportunity to attend field trips with other students in their community or state and Connections Academy teachers.

State and federal funds for public schools pay for a student’s computer, webcam, textbooks, pens, pencils and other learning materials. The computers are set up to solely run Connexus, which is Connection Academy’s education management system. There is no out-of-pocket cost for parents, except for Internet service and optional field trips.

Connections Academy expects the student’s parents or caregivers to take an active role in their child’s education as a learning coach. According to its website, Connections Academy believes the learning coach plays a key role in developing study skills and affecting the learning. As students become more independent in the middle school and high school years, the learning coach typically spends less time on daily oversight and guidance.

“As a learning coach, I supervise my children and reinforce or review the lessons they’re learning,” Campbell said. “I have a schedule, so my kids know what lessons they’re doing on what day and I set alarms to tell them it’s time for a live lesson with their teacher.”

To learn more about Connections Academy, visit the website at www.connectionsacademy.com or call 1-800-382-6010.

Connections Academy is hosting a “Meet and Greet and New Parent Orientation” from 6-9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 18, at the Hilton Garden Inn Dallas/Market Center on North Stemmons Freeway in Dallas. The event is free and prospective families can attend a brief information session from 6-6:30 p.m. The meet and greet for new parents will begin at 6:30 p.m.

A virtual public school, Texas Connections Academy is enrolling students in the third through 10th grades.             

Contact Aaron at a.schwaderer@wninews.com or 469-517-1456.