- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 1, 2009

Home-schooling offers a lot of flexibility, but new opportunities are arising that give even more options to those educating within the family. The University of Phoenix has for 33 years pushed the envelope of higher education, pioneering Web-based learning for 20 years. Some 385,000 students are enrolled in its courses; whether they are employed, in a different country, have a family or have other reasons a campus-based degree program doesn’t suit them, these students are studying and earning degrees.

Now the same concept is being applied at the high school level. Olympus High School (www.olympushighschool.net) is an online school that allows students to take high school courses online — and in many cases, receive high school and college credit simultaneously.

“This is a great option for a home-schooler that wants to take courses from certified teachers, with 24-hour tutoring available, and to work at their own pace,” Olympus High President Bill Finkbeiner explained in a recent interview.

“They can take five full courses in the year, which gives five high school credits, or take some semester courses for half credits. In the junior and senior years, they can choose to take courses that are college-level, to earn college credit, that will fulfill the high school credit requirements at the same time,” he said.

(College-level courses accrue three college credits while counting as one high school credit).

Olympus, which opened last fall, has more than 50 semester course or full-year course options. It also will evaluate a home-schooler’s other regular activities for credit.

“If they play on a sports team three times a week with an adult coach or trainer, we can evaluate that to give them PE credit, for instance,” he said.

While Olympus does not offer this evaluation for some nontraditional learning opportunities, such as travel or service trips to other countries, if an activity fits the standards of academic-based learning, the school can help the family incorporate that activity into credit for the high school transcript.

Parents can observe, monitor and check their student’s work at any point, and grades and the student’s progress can be accessed at any time, as well as in the regular monthly reports. Students get their graded work back within two days and teachers hold regular “office hours” for one-on-one consultation, phone calls, online chat, etc.

“But students can always e-mail the teacher, and get a response by the next day, at any time,” Mr. Finkbeiner says. “The teachers really get to know each student — often better than in a class setting.”

The school also maintains tools and resources usable by the student, such as an online reference center, writing tools, and 24-hour technical support service to help the student use the system. College guidance is also available, as well as the dual-credit option that allows students to get a head start on their college career, potentially saving several semesters of more expensive college tuition in the process.

“More than 30 states allow students to earn dual credits, and those students can benefit greatly from this option,” he said.

Olympus is accredited by the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools and the courses follow the academic standards established by Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning to ensure a high quality of content for the courses. Olympus teachers are all certified in their subject areas.

“If a parent worries about teaching chemistry or Algebra II, they can relax, knowing that the student is learning from someone with expertise in that area,” Mr. Finkbeiner said. “Also, with the 24-hour tutoring, no matter when the student wants to do the work, there’s always instruction and support available.”

Costs are reasonable: A full-year’s tuition, which includes five full courses (or 10-half credit courses) is a bit under $2,000, and single-course tuition is $475, whether for the high school or college level courses. (Compare that to two semesters of courses in a community college, or enrollment in a private high school — neither of which offers the 24-hour tutoring, online progress reporting, “work at your own pace” flexibility, or capability of giving credit for outside-the-institution learning activities.) It’s a fabulous deal.

The Olympus High School option really removes the last barrier for families who would like to home-school, but want the structure, expertise and administrative support of an institutional school — and in addition, a one-on-one relationship with the teacher that lets the student deal with any problem areas quickly and constructively.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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