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One of Wisconsin’s pioneering online charter schools is expanding for the upcoming school year.

Wisconsin Connections Academy (WCA) is a K-12 online charter school that operates within the Appleton Area School District. Since the school opened in 2002, the online schooling option has expanded from K-8 to now include high school. The school has approximately 500 students enrolled and the program is now expanding.

Starting during the 2019-20 academic school year, WCA will now offer a new 4K program, allowing pre-kindergarten children the opportunity to enroll in the school for the first time. Open enrollment has begun for the upcoming academic year and ends April 30.

Wisconsin Connections Academy Principal Michelle Mueller said the need for including all child age/schooling levels was essential due to the varied needs of the students of Wisconsin.

“Each student has their own unique needs and wants,” Mueller said. “I think of it like a tennis shoe. There is Nike and there is Reebok, and if you think of that as an online and a traditional setting it is just whatever the best fit for the family is.”

The label of an “online charter school,” might be foreign to many, but WCA operates much like a traditional school. Mueller said the school day lasts about the same length as a traditional public school (approximately eight hours), offers the same tuition as the other institutions in the Appleton Area School District, operates during the same period as public schools, but varies in the way lesson plans are offered to their students.

An average day for a WCA student involves logging onto an online platform in which all lessons are presented, but the student has the option to view the lessons in the order they please. Most of these lessons are pre-planned, but on average they have one or two live lessons per week in order to establish a human connection with instructors and other students.

Mueller said a positive aspect of this lesson plan is that the students can finish work at their own pace and won’t be bogged down waiting for their classmates to keep up.

“When they’re done, they’re done,” Mueller said. “A lesson could take 45 minutes, or a lesson could take an hour-and-a-half. It’s not bound by time in the sense that when I was in school the teacher would do the lesson, you’d get work time, maybe I’d be the first one done but I’d have to wait until the period is over. That’s where there is flexibility within the schedule.”

However, a common critique of online schools is they don’t teach social interaction. There is something to be said for learning how to operate in social settings, an aspect of public school which is often overlooked. Mueller said while this is an aspect the online programs won’t be able to offer in as high of a capacity as public schools, she said there is a good amount of socialization offered over the course of the year at WCA.

“We do have socialization,” Mueller said. “We do a lot of field trips around the state, we do live classes on the computer so the kids have the opportunity to interact that way as well. Our students might see each other once a year at state testing, but you would never in a million years imagine that because they’re all there chatting like they’re with each other every day.”

For more information on Wisconsin Connections Academy and their upcoming 4-K program, you can visit their website.

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Chippewa Herald reporter

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