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 Article of Interest - e-Education

E-mail classes get 'A'
Online program in Mesa credible, convenient, free
by Mel Meléndez, The Arizona Republic, Oct. 30, 2002
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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 abroad.

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 rigorous."

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.

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