RYAN SCOTT OTTNEY
PDT Staff Writer
The Southern Ohio Academy is now accepting students in grades 7-12 to begin their first school year of online classes for non-traditional, at-risk students.
The not-for-profit Academy is a collaborative effort of Bloom Vernon, Clay, Green, Manchester, Minford, Northwest, Oak Hill, Scioto County Career Technical Center, South Central Ohio Educational Service Center, Valley, Washington Nile, and Wheelersburg schools. Its curriculum is provided by the Virtual Community School of Ohio, offering a blend of online courses and physical classrooms available at the Career Technical Center in Lucasville.
This is the first and only school of its kind in the entire state of Ohio, sponsored by the Career Technical Center (SciotoTech).
“How it came into being was the CTC wanted to sponsor a digital Academy. As (SciotoTech Superintendent Stan Jennings) started talking, we thought it would be really nice if we could have the districts and the ESC involved. So the ESC has become the fiscal agent. Almost all of the districts in the county … are part of this,” said Academy Executive Director Patricia Ciraso.
A graduate of West High School, Ciraso returned to West in 1964 to begin her career as an educator. She has worked her way through the district as Jenkins Elementary School principal and then later as assistant superintendent, and she was hired as superintendent in 1989. She resigned from West in August 2011 and was hired as the interim superintendent at Valley in November 2011 while the board sought a permanent replacement. She left Valley last month after the school board hired Carl McCrory.
The Southern Ohio Academy offers high school courses in language arts, math, science, social studies, health and physical education, foreign languages, art, creative writing, drama, mythology, poetry, reading, computer skills, and other special programs. Students can also participate in special projects such as job shadowing for class credit.
Students can enroll full-time to complete their high school education, or they can remain enrolled in their home school district and take part-time classes at the Academy to pick up extra credits they may need. There is no tuition for full-time students, and every student at the Academy will receive a laptop computer, printer, scanner, and access to the Internet to participate in online classes.
“We have tried to put a school together that will have online courses, but it will also have local support. We think it’s ideal because of the vocational students that come out to the CTC, we have transportation built-in. They can do it from home, or they come in. If they need support, we will have a teacher on site that can help them,” Ciraso said.
The focus, she said, is at-risk students who might not otherwise complete their education within the traditional 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. school day.
“We’re talking about kids that have quit school because they were three grade levels below in reading. We’re talking about the kids that have attendance problems, or that have quit because they got in trouble. Kids who who were told they have to go to home schooling or they’d end up in court. We’re talking about the young ladies who may be pregnant, or can’t find a sitter for them to come to school,” Ciraso said.
But Ciraso explains this is more than just an online correspondence course. Internet classes are taught by highly-qualified, local teachers, and teachers and computer labs will be available at the Career Technical Center for students to participate in physical classroom work, should they need it. The Academy will also help students connect with local support programs that may be able to help them.
Students will learn at at a pace they are comfortable with. Some may complete the program very quickly, and others may take longer. SciotoTech Superintendent Stan Jennings called it “adaptive learning,” which will ebb and flow to the student’s individual abilities and interests. If a student misses too many days of online classes, Ciraso may call them on the telephone and make sure things are OK. Teachers will also periodically make home visits to check up on students and their progress.
“The school is required by state law to be in session for 154 days, and the student needs to be online at least once every 18 days. Our goal is to see that the students are online every week,” Ciraso said.
Jennings said the Academy could not have been possible without the support and cooperation of so many people from so many school districts — superintendents, school boards, principals, curriculum directors, guidance counselors, and other educational personnel.
“If you think about the resources between 10 districts that we can pull together with the CTC and with the ESC; for instance, we’re housed here (at SciotoTech) so we have on site support if we have equipment problems that can be taken care of. We have the resources of SciotoTech’s curriculum people from the vocational side, and we’re going to access to the ESC’s people on the academic side to improve on what we are doing online,” Ciraso said.
Classes begin online Sept. 13, and there will be a physical orientation meeting for students at the Career Technical Center before the school year begins. Students interested in enrolling can find the Southern Ohio Academy online at soavirtual.org, or call Ciraso at 740-259-6843 or toll-free at 800-271-8324, or e-mail email@example.com. Students can also enroll at the Scioto County Career Technical Center campus, located at 951 Vern Riffe Drive, in Lucasville.
Ryan Scott Ottney can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 235, or firstname.lastname@example.org.