A local school is growing and evolving into the 21st century by bringing an online, virtual experience to home-schooled children.

California Connections Ripon is a tuition-free, kindergarten through 12th grade online school, and has more than 1,500 students enrolled for the 2018-19 school year.

The online school is associated with the Ripon school district, but serves students in Alameda, Amador, Calaveras, Contra Costa, Sacramento, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties. The school is fully accredited by the Schools Commission of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

California Connections is structured like a traditional classroom environment, with student lesson plans and tracked attendance. In addition to the teacher that students are assigned, they have a “learning coach,” which is typically a parent or caregiver. The learning coach works in tandem with the assigned or “homeroom” teacher to check off lessons and help facilitate the learning process.

The school has been open since 2012, and students must meet state residency requirements and have an internet connection to be eligible.

In higher grades, students have a different teacher for each subject.

Kristin Cable, a teacher who previously taught in the Lodi public school system and now lives in Valley Springs, said she loves her experience as a teacher for California Connections. She works remotely and uses the integrated technology to bring the classroom experience to her fourth-grade students.

Each teacher has their own home-room of children. Cable explains that the teachers have classroom contact and one-on-one contact with the students whenever they need her, but otherwise, she has set meetings with each student twice a month. Cable does live group lessons with her students every week.

“There’s more diversity in who they’re receiving the instruction from,” Cable said.

The school has group lessons, where teachers will focus on their specialty. Anyone in the grade level is welcome to join. Cable explains that it’s mostly the teacher presenting, and students have the option of using a chat-type interactive service, which is called a “chat pod.”

Cable came across the school when she was looking for options to be able to work closer to home.

“I’m starting to learn more about it as I’m working – I love it, I think it’s really cool,” Cable said. “I love teaching, and I really love feeling like I’m making a difference. I felt that way when I was teaching in the regular brick-and-mortar classroom.”

Cable went on to say that it’s a different approach to the traditional classroom, but not that different.

“I still get to know my students, and I still feel like I’m helping them,” Cable said. “I really like this teaching position – I think it’s a great opportunity for students.”

She shared a success story of one student, who was struggling with math. She invited him to come to a math support lesson. She shared that after two to three weeks he sent her an email thanking her and sharing that he felt more confident with the subject matter. Cable explained that this ability to gauge an individual student’s performance also helps the teachers to stay abreast of their student’s progress and hone in on problem areas.

She does not feel that the experience is less personal than a traditional physical classroom, and feels that she is still able to establish rapport with her students.

The school also offers multiple opportunities for students to socialize throughout the year, by hosting different in-person events, including an event at the beginning, middle and end of the school year. These events are free for students. There are also field trips that the students have the option of attending, many of which are free. Others are parent-funded.

So far, there are approximately 20 students of all grade levels from Calaveras County who are enrolled in the school, 12 from Amador and less than 10 from Tuolumne County, according to enrollment information provided by California Connections.

Throughout California, there are six different locations, serving a combined total of 33 counties.

“I suppose I would just say that every student has a right to pursue any path toward a diploma they feel is the best for them – I respect and appreciate that right,” said Mark Campbell, superintendent of Calaveras Unified School District. “As a school district, any drop in enrollment carries a fiscal impact which leads to programmatic impacts at some point.”

For parents or caretakers who are interested in finding out more information, the school is hosting complimentary online and in-person information sessions and has started their open enrollment period for the 2019-20 school year.

For more information, call 800-382-6010 or visit connectionsacademy.com.

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Crystal studied journalism and has a background in travel, business and law. She is a single mother (aka multi-tasking ninja) who enjoys ocean trips and yoga when not reporting for the Enterprise. #supportlocaljournalism

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