Field trips, talent-shows and a prom aim to give kids full school experience
By Al Stewart
Open enrollment for tuition-free home schooling is now underway for parents opting to move their child away from the traditional brick and mortar classroom setting. Online enrollment forms are available on the web site for California Connections Academy, a home schooling company that serves residents of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties (connectionsacademy.com/california-online-school).
Any child in those counties is eligible, but school staff stress that this option is not suitable for all students. Only those young people, from kindergarten up to the 12th grade, who can work unsupervised and have a highly committed “learning coach,” should consider it, they say.
“All are welcome but the student has to be highly motivated, so it’s definitely not for everyone,” said Meagan VanDeventer, an art teacher for the San Juan Capistrano-based private company that administers the home school program on behalf of the counties participating. She added that text books, art supplies and even a computer are provided for children who do not have their own. The school says its curriculum and faculty members are fully accredited and meet all state educational standards.
VanDeventer was asked to speak to Arcadia Weekly to help highlight the availability of art classes, which some parents might assume are sacrificed with home schooling.
“We are determined to help each child find success,” she said. “It is a rigorous curriculum that requires the student be self-motivated and work with a parent or someone who is their learning coach. We also call our students directly and discuss their progress.”
Also available to Academy students are college-prep classes including the so-called, “UC A-G” requirements needed for admission to colleges run by the State of California (A- history, B – English, C – mathematics, D – laboratory science, E – language other than English, F – visual and performing arts, and G – college-preparatory electives). College prep begins as early as the sixth grade with an AVID program.
The home school option is not ideal for children in need of counseling or other services found at traditional brick and mortars schools. Still, VanDeventer stressed that the Academy is committed to addressing the social and recreational needs of its students.
“That question comes up all the time,” she said. “Parents are concerned their children may lose out on some of the important aspects of going to school with other children. So we pride ourselves on addressing that. We have field trips every month. We take them to museums, art shows. We also have talent shows. While the students do work independently, they are also interacting with their teachers in real time.”
Opportunities also include college visits, picnics and even a prom. “We want them to have the full school experience, develop friendships and have those great memories,” said VanDeventer.
Established in 2001 and based in Columbia, Md., the Connections Academy opened its Capistrano office in 2004 and has steadily but gradually increased enrollment. The school says for the current 2018-19 year, it serves more than 4,000 students, a minuscule fraction of those eligible. Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), for example, serves over 600,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade at over 1,000 schools.
VanDeventer noted that her school holds strong appeal to competitive athletes or other students with demanding or non-traditional schedules, including those who are called upon to travel for family or work demands. The school also touts itself as an alternative to “former home schooled students seeking high caliber teacher support.” The “expanded course offerings,” it says, may also be well suited for high-performing students.
The school says it alumni include figure skating champs Mirai Nigasu, Vincent Zhou, Karen Chen, and Nathan Chen,
One of its current students, Sean Lew, appeared as a competitor on NBC TV’s “World of Dance.”
“Having flexibility and independence as a student allows me to pursue my passions in full force without feeling like I’m sacrificing my education” said Lew. “Thanks to California Connections Academy, I have the time and energy to do what I love most while expanding my creative interests.”
Each student’s learning plan is individualized with the goal for nurturing strengths while providing additional support in more challenging areas.
“Our driven team of educators and diverse student body create an evolving picture of modern education,” said Dr. Richard Savage, executive director of California Connections Academy. “Our school employs technological tools that offer students one-on-one support with their teachers and ensure their needs and academic goals are fulfilled.”