Sunday, July 01, 2001

1st class leaves Cyber High


23 students graduate Ohio's first online charter school

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Instead of the usual teary-eyed seniors hugging and saying goodbye, the 23 students receiving their diplomas Saturday from Ohio's first cyberschool greeted their teachers and each other for the first time.

        But in keeping with tradition, the parents crowding the Statehouse atrium for the graduation ceremony of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow charter school provided plenty of tears.

        With 2,700 students, eCOT is the state's largest charter school and one of the biggest new online schools in the country. Altogether, 32 students graduated this year. Those not present watched on home computers.

        Children having trouble fitting into a regular school and formerly homeschooled students have flocked to the online school since it was founded in September.

        “Each of our seniors have stories as to why the traditional way of doing things might not have been the best way,” school founder William Lager said. “Many thought they would never graduate from high school because of various personal difficulties.”

        The school gives students a telephone line and Internet access, a computer and a combination fax-copier-scanner. Students study standard academic subjects, either online or from information they download. Like all Ohio students, they must take 900 hours of instruction and pass Ohio's ninth-grade proficiency tests.

        “I was looking forward to meeting my teacher Lisa Frayle,” said Jaclyn Cartier, 18, of Delaware, who waved after getting her diploma to family watching in Canada via the live Web cast. “Even though we had never met we built a connection through e-mail and chat rooms.”

        Ms. Cartier, who was homeschooled after she got pregnant with Elizabeth, now 15 months old, joined the school because she felt she needed more guidance.

        Angela Feliciano, of Cleveland, missed so much school because of an asthma condition that she joined the school after being told she wouldn't be able to graduate.

        Ms. Feliciano said her online education was difficult at times but says the experience taught her self-discipline.

        “So many times I wanted to go through the computer and give my teachers a big hug because they never gave up on me,” she said.

        Btu there have been problems during the first year.

        The superintendent and three of its five board members resigned over disputes on how the school was being run.

        And last fall, eCOT had difficulty getting equipment to students.

        In December, the Ohio Department of Education asked for a special audit of the school because of questions about its enrollment figures. The school receives $4,630 from the state for every student. The audit is being conducted.

        “eCot is a large, bold idea and when pulling off large ideas you run into large problems,” Mr. Lager said. “We have faced our problems this year head on and today is evidence that we have cleared those hurdles.”

        Charter schools are funded publicly, privately operated and free from some state regulations. Ohio has 70, enrolling more than 17,000 students.

        On Thursday, another online charter school announced it hopes to be up and running by fall.

        Operators of the Tri-River Educational Computer Association in Marion announced plans for the TRECA Digital Academy for kindergartners through 11th grade. The school hopes to add a senior class during the 2002-'03 year.

        Akron and Cincinnati city schools, which initially lost thousands of dollars to eCOT based on its enrollment figures, are now looking into district-run Internet schools.

       



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