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Internet education -- iQ Academy seeks students

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news Detroit Lakes, 56501

Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Detroit Lakes Public Schools is in a battle for students.

There isn't a new school being built in the area. Instead, iQ Academy Minnesota, hopes to lure students away from a traditional public school.

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iQ Academy is one of over 20 schools that hope to teach Minnesota students over the Internet when the school year begins September 2. iQ Academy will teach students from the sixth grade on up.

"It's for anyone whose schedule doesn't fit into the traditional schedule," saaid Jesse Thorstad, technology specialist for Fergus Falls Public Schools who hosted a sparsely attended iQ Academy open house in Detroit Lakes on Sunday.

What the iQ Academy hopes to tell parents is that it's a public school as well. Like the other "virtual" schools in the state, iQ Academy needs to be affiliated with a school district.

Fergus Falls stepped in to govern the program.

"Being a public school means our courses have to meet state standards," Thorstad said.

He added that all the instructors have to be Minnesota licensed and certified.

Since iQ Academy is a public school, it is tuition-free and students have free use of a laptop while enrolled. If a student's home doesn't have Internet access, parents can receive a small stipend to help pay for that.

A glance at the courses being offered shows why Detroit Lakes and other brick-and-mortar schools could be losing students. iQ Academy offers five foreign languages, including Mandarin and Latin.

There are also several computer courses that will appeal to a segment of the students.

Plus, the iQ Academy offers several Advanced Placement courses that can give students a head start in earning college credit.

Even a physical education class is offered.

"Some people think "how can you do that online?'" Thorstad said.

Taking a student's fitness profile at the beginning of the year, Thorstad said that PE teachers can develop a customized plan. He said that's something you might not get in a regular school environment.

Detroit Lakes Superintendent Doug Froke said that iQ Academy is part of a trend where parents and students want education to be delivered in a convenient way.

"We want an easier (more convenient) way to get advanced credits," Froke said of society in general. "High school students aren't any different."

Thorstad said that iQ Academy or distance education isn't for everyone.

"Parents need to assess their children to see if they are the right candidate (for the school)," Thorstad said.

Classes are largely self-paced, with a weekly class "meeting" -- a chat room where the teacher can answer questions right away and use a virtual whiteboard -- being the only steadfast requirement as for attendance.

"That's the only time they need to be there," Thorstad said.

Detroit Lakes is in the process of investigating whether a virtual school would be a good fit, Froke said. Whether that will be by aligning with a company like the iQ Academy or setting up something on its own will be determined later.

The iQ Academy is going slow right now in its first year of operation in Minnesota. Thorstad said he expects about 200 students total for this year, with the number doubling for the next two years at least.

That's what the company did when it set up shop in Wisconsin.

With 200 spots to fill, Thorstad said that there could be some hard feelings between iQ Academy and local school districts who are losing students and revenue.

"I suppose it has that potential," Thorstad said.

It's a fact that schools have to deal with as education reform such as the No Child Left Behind Act ties funding with school performance. Another factoring opening the doors to iQ Academy and other "virtual" schools is open enrollment, which allows students to change schools fairly easily as well.

Froke said that public school districts, like Detroit Lakes, need to find a way to keep students locally.

"The decline of the outstate Minnesota population has created a battle for students," Froke said.

But conflict is not the goal of either Fergus Falls or iQ Academy, Thorstad said.

"We want this to be the best program (for the students) and provide a choice for them," Thorstad said.

Froke said that any future offerings from Detroit Lakes Public Schools should be able to keep students here.

"What offerings we are able to provide online is a feature to attract students," Froke said.

There isn't a timetable set in stone for Detroit Lakes to implement distance learning. Froke said that the district needs to gauge the interest of staff to see whether it can work out.

A full distance-learning program won't be offered right away.

"We will probably start slow with a couple of different courses and not have a full plethora of offerings," Froke said.

iQ Academy is still looking to enroll students for the fall, and more information and an application can be found at http://www.iqacademymn.org

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