More Bend-La Pine students plugging in for class

Online school program quadruples in two years

Bend-La Pine School online program soars

BEND, Ore. - Forget the bus stop -- the Stilson kids get ready for school by piling into mom's big bed.

Nicole Stilson's three school-aged kids are part of growing number of home-schooled families in Central Oregon choosing public school for the first time -- through an online platform.

"It's interactive and fun, and they send you everything," Stilson said. "This pallet shows up with science beakers, and rocks and minerals, and seeds. Free."

Only in its second year of offering online classes to each grade level, "our enrollments have really almost quadrupled from where they were from a year before," Shay Mikalson, Bend-La Pine Schools' executive director of curriculum and technology, said Tuesday.

The district has offered some online classes to high school students for nearly a decade.

But now, even 7 1/2-year-old Drew Stilson can take history classes online.

"You learn about the Greek gods, ancient Rome and a lot of fun stuff like that," Drew said.

Last year, the district launched a program through an online school called K-12, offering a variety of free online classes and school options for every grade.

This year, school officials said about 15 percent of Bend La-Pine students will take some sort of online course.

"We anticipate to serve over 2,000 students," Mikalson said. "The vast majority of those take most of their schooling in one of our buildings, so they might want to do math in their building, but also stretch themselves to the next level of math online."

Mikalson calls it the best of both worlds -- and for home-school families, it's a program going beyond the computer and books.

"They can participate in the field trips or the athletics, or those other things that we know make school really special for students," he said.

And Stilson likes exposing her kids to outside instruction.

"They put on a little headset, and the teacher pops up and they just kind of dialogue to make sure they're on track," Stilson said.

A program challenging Drew while allowing him to do schoolwork with his favorite people.

"I like that we always stay together and read books about what we're supposed to be learning about," he said.

Mikalson said the district does get money from the state for each online student. However, he said that money goes right back into the program.

He said the school district does not save money by offering online classes.

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