Students make Connections — Online school equals success
RUSHFORD — Jonah Rutgers was in eighth grade when his parents first started to realize that a traditional public school learning environment probably wasn't going to work for him.
Jonah, of Rushford, has difficulty with some of his fine motor skills, which his mom, Terri, says makes doing school work with a pen and pencil difficult. He also has Asperger's sydrome, a developmental disorder that affects his ability to socialize and communicate with others, which his mom says also made going to public school "torture."
Finally, after bringing home report cards full of Cs and Ds through eighth grade, Terri Rutgers said she and her husband knew it was time for a change.
"We knew once Jonah became a freshman that grade point average was going to start mattering a little more," she said. "And we knew he was capable of more than that, so we started looking into other alternatives."
A search led Terri and her husband to an online charter school called MTS Minnesota Connections Academy. Based in St. Paul, the school is a tuition-free online public school that provides a personalized learning environment for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
"I found Connections Academy and read the reviews and everyone sounded very pleased with the curriculum," Terri Rutgers said.
Connections Academy social studies teacher Danielle Leibovich said the curriculum combines traditional textbooks with technology resources and hands-on materials to help students learn from home at their own pace.
"Our learning platform is a lot like Blackboard, but more complex, more interactive," said Leibovich, who teaches from her home in Rochester. "When the students login, they see what they have to do and accomplish for the day."
The students, however, aren't completely left to their own devices. Once a week students and teachers get together online for something Leibovich calls a "live lesson session."
"We use Adobe Connect Pro to have an Internet classroom," she said. "The students all login and I'm there and I have a PowerPoint learning activity prepared for them. They can ask me questions, and I can talk to them by using my microphone."
It's a learning environment students seem to enjoy, Leibovich said.
"A lot of students really enjoy it because they can move at their own pace," she said. "If a student is doing really well with math, he or she can do a couple of lessons. They can move ahead if they want to."
That kind of flexibility has certainly worked well for Jonah Rutgers.
"He decides on his own when he's going to start working through his day," Terri Rutgers said. "And he decides how long he needs to work until he takes a break. He's pretty much in total control of his own school day. And that's been wonderful for him."
How wonderful? Jonah first enrolled in Connections Academy during the last half of his eighth-grade year and now that he's a senior, his grades have done nothing but improve each year, his mother said.
"He's now running a 3.7 GPA overall and is enrolled at Winona State University this coming fall," she said. "We knew it was there. It just took a combination of things to pull it out of him."
Jonah Rutgers says he knew it was there, too.
"I didn’t really have that many friends when I was going to public school, and as a result, my grades were pretty poor. This way, I'm still able to have friends. I have several friends who live close by and I have a nice, comfortable social life. And my grades are improving. I'm on the honor roll now … instead of getting Cs and Ds."