Walk in the front door of the classroom for Oak Knoll Virtual Academy—on the Sunflower Alternative School and Arrow High School campus in Glendora—and the one-room schoolhouse feel is immediately apparent.
The class space for Charter Oak’s home schooled students consists of one oversized classroom, two office spaces with mini-classrooms separating high school and grade school teachers, and that’s it. On any normal day there are at most about a dozen students using computers, consulting with their teachers, or making use of other resources in the building at any one time, but since this time last year there’s been a big change for them.
Last July, the Charter Oak home schooling staff of six—Principal Lisa Raigosa in addition to five teachers—began preparations to switch to the Oak Knoll Virtual Academy, an online-based curriculum for K-12 students (created by a company called K12) which puts an emphasis on mastery of given subjects. The program first opened to students in September for this current school year.
“We’re learning as we’re implementing,” says Raigosa. “We’re venturing out, pioneering new territory. But we have an energetic group of teachers who are really excited about this.”
Of course, in making such a large switch, numerous challenges presented themselves. Beyond expected hiccups such as expecting veteran teachers to learn a whole new primary vehicle of educating, meeting California state educational standards, and proving their accreditation to auditors, menial tasks such as keeping attendance became an issue.
“It was all new,” said Oak Knoll teacher Phil Cliffe. “The systems were new, figuring out the attendance was new, grading is new. It’s all based on mastery, so the children don’t move on until they’ve mastered something.”
Nonetheless, the unique hybrid school—where elementary students must meet with teachers one hour a week, and high school students one hour a month in person, and twice a month online—presents enormous appeal to parents who for logistical reasons home school their children, but still want a sense of community. For instance, all the elementary students recently met for an Easter egg hunt.
The curriculum itself also seems to be more convenient for parents—who are referred to as “learning coaches” and checked-in on as well—in terms of providing materials and allowing students to move at their own pace given their mastery of subjects. It's so convenient, there are students enrolled from as far away as Kern County.
“Both of my boys have been going to this school since they started school, and were under the old program,” explains Nancy Pinal, the mother of a 5th and 10th grade students. “One of the challenges always was getting the materials and teacher guides and trying to do the home teaching. And the new curriculum provides all of that, so there really aren’t gaps. It’s really a good curriculum.”
Anyone interested in learning more about the Oak Knoll Virtual Academy can attend an informational meeting on Thursday, May 26, at the Arrow High School / Sunflower Alternative School campus at 7 p.m. 1505 Sunflower Ave., Covina.