E-mail classes get 'A'
Online program in Mesa credible, convenient, free
by Mel Meléndez,
The Arizona Republic, Oct. 30,
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By the time Mark Chapman's former schoolmates reach their
classrooms, the 18-year-old senior is sporting pajama bottoms
in his living room, tackling an online algebra lesson through
Mesa Distance Learning.
Chapman is graduating a year late. But the Chapmans aren't
complaining because a year ago it seemed Mark would have to
drop out of school because of a chronic hernia condition that
forced him to miss much class.
"It's hard to go to school when you're vomiting or passing out
three times a day," said Chapman, who later underwent an
operation. "One minute you're walking to class, the next
you've hit the floor.
"Now, if I feel weak, I can wait until I feel better in the
day to complete my lessons."
Chapman is one of about 275 students enrolled in the Mesa
Public Schools program, which offers nearly 60 high school
courses via the Internet to students throughout the nation and
About 83 percent of the students enrolled in the free program
were formerly home schooled.
"Most of the online high school programs are geared toward
failing students who struggle with (classroom) curriculum,"
said Doug Barnard, the district's executive director of
community programs. "But ours is geared toward average or
above-average students that want to study at home. It's quite
Four years ago, Mesa Unified became one of four school
districts, including Deer Valley, selected by the state to
pilot distance learning programs. Mesa considered purchasing
an existing program until officials learned it cost $350,000.
Instead, in-house computer specialists and Mesa teachers
devised their own program.
Students complete 18 weeks worth of one-hour daily classes to
earn credit. Courses are aligned to Arizona and national
standards to accommodate students in other states. All finals
must be taken in person at a Mesa school or at proctor schools
for out-of-state and international students.
Students can log on 24 hours daily for the interactive lessons
that are "taught" by Mesa teachers through sophisticated video
streaming lessons. They then file assignments and tests
electronically and communicate with teachers via e-mail.
"I love that because in a classroom it's a teacher-class
relationship, but with this program I get more individualized
attention," said Chapman, who's taking six courses and watched
his grade-point average soar from 1.0 to 4.0. "That one-on-one
really makes a difference."
Chapman's mother, Lottie, lauded the program.
"It's a Godsend because it gives kids that fall behind a way
to catch up with their studies," she said. "I can't say enough
to parents about what a wonderful option this is."
Mesa governing board members also were sold on the program
following a recent demonstration.
The state now provides about $3,800 per student - the same
amount awarded for traditional students with full loads - and
out-of-state school districts cover their students. Adult
students earning their diplomas pay their own way.
One issue needs to be resolved: How to help international
students earn their Arizona high school diploma when AIMS
testing sites aren't available outside the United States. The
program has students from England, Japan and Hong Kong.