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Attend public school through cyberspace

Thanks to cyberspace and MTS Minnesota Connections Academy, hundreds of students from across Minnesota can attend public school without stepping foot outside.

MTS Minnesota Connec-tions Academy is a tuition-free, full-time virtual public school program designed to meet the needs of students who -- for a variety of reasons -- learn better outside a traditional classroom.

This unique program combines the strong parental involvement of home schooling, the expertise and accountability of public education, and the flexibility of online learning. The program is available statewide to students in all grades, K-10 (the 10th grade curriculum is being added for the first time this fall, according to the school's principal, Melissa Nelson.

Beginning in February 2005 with 18 students -- 7th and 8th grade only -- and one teacher, the pilot program grew to include 200 students last year, and is expected to draw between 300-400 students starting this fall, Nelson added.

"This year we will have nine teachers -- as we get more students, that number will grow," Nelson said.

Unlike other distance learning programs, however, all the teachers at the Academy are based in the same Minneapolis office.

"Our teachers are in the office from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day, Monday through Friday," Nelson said. "Though parents and students can do the work at any time, the teachers are only available until 4 p.m. each day."

Another aspect that makes MTS Minnesota Connections Academy different from a home schooling program, Nelson continued, is that its curriculum is based specifically on Minne-sota's academic standards.

"All our teachers are Minnesota certified, and all of our curriculum is aligned with Minnesota state standards," Nelson said. Students are even required to take the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) tests, just as they are in a public school.

Nelson said MCA testing is set up at approximately 15 different sites around the state, during the time frame that the tests are required to be administered by state standards.

"It's the one time of the year when the students are required to be somewhere at a certain time," Nelson said.

When students need a little more help with their lessons than their parents can provide, Nelson said, the MTS teachers have the option of setting up a "live lesson" via the Internet. The student is simply directed to an online Web site where he or she can log on and have access to a video conference link that allows them to interact with both the teacher and other students "attending" the same lesson.

Parents and students wishing to learn more about this "cyber-school" option are invited to attend a public informational meeting this Wednesday, Aug. 9, at 1 p.m. in the downstairs meeting room at the Detroit Lakes Community & Cultural Center, 826 Summit Ave., Detroit Lakes. Refreshments will be provided.

During the event, families will see examples of the curriculum, meet a MTS Minnesota Connections Academy staff member, and watch a program overview presentation. This information session offers parents and children the chance to thoroughly explore a "cyber-school" program and speak one-on-one with staff. The event is free and child-friendly.

Because students attend from home, the program is well suited for children who live in isolated rural settings and those who previously were home-schooled. Connections Academy operates its full-time virtual public school program in Minnesota through a partnership with the Minnesota Transitions School.

Any parent who is considering having their child learn at home, but is looking for the support and accountability of an accredited public school program is encouraged to attend. Reservations are not required, although families can register at

For more information, call 1-800-382-6010 or visit the Web site listed above.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454