MILL HALL - A little over two years ago, the Keystone Central School District took an uncertain step into the world of cyber education, creating a new system of computerized, home-based learning called "Cyber School."
Today, according to School Superintendent Kelly Hastings, the program that began with a couple of students is showing a stable enrollment of between 40 and 60 students, depending on the needs of the district and the students themselves.
Hastings also outlined a potential initiative for expanding the program, by allowing more educators to create on-line courses on the "Blackboard."
Blackboard is the course management system utilized for e-learning, and Hastings said she hopes to have a "training trainer" up and ready to offer tutoring and lessons to other educators by next school year.
The program is completely web-based and is accessible from any location that has Internet capability. Blackboard Inc. is an enterprise software company with corporate headquarters in Washington, D.C.
In the beginning, Hastings said, the school administrators had hoped that 20 students would opt into the newly created "Virtual Academy" by the end of the school year.
Instead, they are averaging well over those numbers, a fact administrators attribute to the savvy nature of kids today when it comes to electronic media, telecommunications and the Internet.
The uses go well beyond that specific classification of student, Hastings indicated.
Well over 100 students use the system in some capacity, including expanded opportunities for learning outside the classroom atmosphere.
Cyber schools have been described as an alternative to the present, outside-school system, offering additional options for students desiring a district graduation diploma.
The system is also being used to provide special education to some students with special needs that can be provided in a home setting rather than at the typical "bricks and mortar" facility.
And it's being used by five "policy violators" who have been expelled from school for various infractions. In addition, she said, the school is being used by some students who want to advance their education more quickly, and by others who have fallen behind and desire to catch up.
Some students take cyber classes to learn subjects that otherwise might not have fit their schedules and still others are using it to make up a class with a failing grade.
Cyber education allows students from kindergarten through 12th grade to learn from a computer at home, with oversight. Hastings said the program is monitored closely so those unsuited to at-home learning or who have difficulty gaining decent grades via the world wide internet can be quickly "brought back into the fold" for more direct teaching and supervision.
By creating its own online programs, Hastings said, the district hopes to save money and obtain greater control over academic content.
The on-line curriculum offers core instruction on standard topics, but with the new focus on bringing teachers on line as class creators, the possibilities are endless, Hastings said.
Future possibilities include a virtual summer school, specific tutorials for short-term learning, additional course work for students who want additional credits and remedial or accelerated learning options.