Students who must stay at home during the school day don’t have to miss out on their education. For homebound learners in the Hillsboro, Ore., Public School District, the school’s new web-based Net School provides elementary and secondary school course work to area home schoolers and drop-outs.

The Hillsboro School District approved the program in July, agreeing to provide funding for teacher salaries, equipment, and technology upgrades.

“We’ve had a very positive response from the home schooling population,” said Net School Principal Marcia Arganbright, “and we’re happy to support what they are doing.”

Most of Net Schools’ students are home schooling or homebound for health or behavioral reasons.

The web service offers students a low-pressure environment with a highly flexible schedule. Students can go online at “three o’clock in the morning on a Saturday,” if that’s what they wish to do, Arganbright said.

To log on, students need a computer, access to the internet, a “reliable” eMail address, and a few plug-ins. Students who don’t have the necessary equipment can still access Net School from computer labs at two area schools.

Courses currently offered include Algebra and Algebra II; Integrated U.S. History & English; Interactive English; and World History. Just entering its pilot phase, Net School had generated thirty students enrollees as of Feb. 4. Most are home schoolers; the rest are high school drop-outs looking to complete graduation requirements.

Spreading the Net

For the moment, the program is intended for students residing within the Hillsboro school district, though response from people outside the area has prompted Net School organizers to rethink its original plan.

Arganbright said the school will consider outside candidates on a case-by-case basis, adding that such an arrangement would require an inter-district agreement. Net School is based largely on a public effort in Federal Way, Wash., called Internet Academy. In its third year, the preK-12 program now boasts around 700 mostly home-schooled students.

Both schools stress the communication among students, parents, and teachers. At the Internet Academy, for example, parents serve on the school’s advisory council and are encouraged to sit in on classes and regularly keep in touch with teachers via eMail messages.

At its launch, Net School, too, is stressing ongoing feedback from everyone involved and the school said it will make decisions regarding growth on the input of students, parents, and teachers.

Internet Academy Administrator Linda McInturff, a former “brick school” principal, said that with a human touch, electronic meetings can be as effective as face-to-face encounters, adding that in some instances, teachers actually get to know their students better.

“eMail can be very sterile or it can be very personal,” McInturff said. “What we are trying to do is make one-to-one, human-touch connections with our students.”

McInturff said this relationship building is an important factor to the parents of home schoolers. “Many families…are choosing to leave the brick buildings because they don’t feel there is enough communication between students and teachers,” she explained.

Federal Way Internet Academy

http://www.iacademy.org

Hillsboro Net School

http://netschool.hsd.k12.or.us/