MCCORDSVILLE — Sitting in pajamas with her fingers poised on the keyboard, Lucie Lottes’ eyes were fixed on the screen in her bedroom. She listened intently through the speakers on her computer as her third-grade teacher went over the day’s literature lesson.
It’s just an average day at school for the 8-year-old, who, along with brother Jeb, a kindergartner, attends virtual online school five days at week at home.
“I get to wear my pj’s in school,” Lucie said with a smile.
Combining the use of technology and online learning with traditional classroom instruction, McCordsville’s Becky Lottes and her husband, Matt, say they have the best of both worlds now that they’ve chosen a virtual school for their children’s education.
“It’s the best decision we ever made,” Becky said.
After doing some research about charter schools, the family discovered the Hoosier Academies virtual program, a fully online public school. They now feel they have the perfect blend of education with access to state-certified teachers for the children in an environment that suits the family – learning at home.
“We wanted that flexibility,” Becky said.
In a spare room outfitted into a makeshift classroom, Becky stands in front of bookshelves packed with learning material for Lucie and Jeb.
“I learned that I didn’t have to pay for all the material like a home-schooler would, and they (the state) provided all the teachers and support behind it, and that was the big thing for me,” Becky said.
The Hoosier Academies Charter School was designed by state leaders to give Indiana families options when it comes to educating their children. The charter school was authorized by Ball State University, and its online component is following a trend in education to hold classes in virtual classrooms, where teachers and students interact over the Internet.
Many school systems already have online studies. And a bill is making its way through the Legislature that would require high school students to take an online course starting in 2012.
But Hoosier Academies’ curriculum represents an all-in investment in using technology to educate children.
The Lotteses, who have three children in all, were frustrated with recent financial cuts and teacher layoffs in the Mt. Vernon school district but weren’t quite sure they could handle the responsibility of teaching at home.
“I didn’t know all the rules of state education, and I just wasn’t comfortable with doing all of it on my own,” Becky said.
They ended up, for multiple reasons, selecting virtual learning through the Hoosier Academies.
With state money following the student, the virtual program is paid for by the state. Virtual educators say it gives Indiana kids the chance to learn in ways that are right for them with support that parents and students need.
It offers K-12 curriculum, a full-time, tuition-free online public school option, support from state-certified teachers and a range of extracurricular activities.
Becky said her children attend several class field trips each month.
“We just went to The Children’s Museum with her class,” she said.
The Hoosier Academies is split between a hybrid system and virtual program.
In the hybrid learning environment, students attend a learning center with face-to-face instruction for part of the week, while the remainder of the weekly instruction is off-site with a learning coach.
The virtual program is fully online and happens at home, on the road, or wherever an Internet connection can be found.
“Sometimes it’s a bit of a scary jump to take your children out of a traditional school,” said Melissa DeWitt academic director of Hoosier Academies.
With its inception as a pilot program at Hoosier Academies in 2009, virtual schooling is still relatively new. Still, the numbers at Hoosier Academies are growing.
“We’ve got teachers from Evansville to South Bend,” Dewitt said.
The program has hired 80 certified teachers and has an estimated 2,400 virtual students coming from the state’s 92 counties. Including hybrid students, the system has just over 3,000 kids, with nearly 800 new students this past fall.
Virtual teachers educate via computer from their homes and are held responsible for making sure their students meet state requirements.
“Lucie has an assessment every day with her teachers online to make sure she understands what is going on,” Becky said.
The teacher’s passion for education comes through, according to Becky, who also has a computer at home so she can check in and listen to her children’s’ classes.
“The teachers are young and excited and they love their jobs because they were all public school teachers who were last ones in and the first ones out, so they got hired on at the charter school,” Becky said.
Dewitt admits virtual education is not for every student. However, she believes any student who tried it would thrive.
“The point of a virtual program is that there are students whose needs are not being met (at a traditional school), and they need that option and one that fits their lifestyle a little better,” she said.
Families have a four- to six-week learning curve before they are up and rolling with virtual learning expectations, according to Hoosier Academies officials.
“Our curriculum is very rigorous,” DeWitt said.
However, she said studies are tailored to meet each student wherever they are in the learning process.
“If you have a fifth-grader who really should be working at a seventh- or eighth-grade level, we can provide that... You’re no longer holding them back and keeping them in their cohort class of 25 kids,” DeWitt said.
Becky agrees. Jeb is already reading at the first-grade level after six months of virtual kindergarten learning. She hopes he will continue to progress until the end of the school year which she said might be early because of how well both of her children are doing.
“We’re planning on being done early, but they give us programs to do all summer if we want to,” she said.
It’s that choice, she said, that is making all the difference in her children’s’ education.