In one of Colorado's largest school districts, as many as 1,000 students will enter the new school year off the beaten path — in an online program that nonetheless features a strong personal touch.
“This is not a canned program where all students get the same instruction and support,” said Kristy Hart, principal of Cherry Creek Elevation. “We are committed to providing a rigorous learning experience as we do in all (Cherry Creek School District) schools but in a way that is customized to the students.”
Opening this month with an anticipated 800 to 1,000 students enrolled, the district's first-ever online school will offer a full-time pathway to a diploma as well as a part-time program for students who primarily attend traditional high schools.
And students can still stay connected to the district's community, participating in some classes, activities and athletics at their traditional “neighborhood” school, according to Elevation's website.
It's not Cherry Creek's first brush with online learning. The district's online programming in the past attracted a large number of students and was often unable to accommodate the number of applicants. That demand spurred the opening of Elevation, Hart said.
Students who graduate from Elevation will receive the same diploma as traditional high school students, but if they're motivated enough, they can do it their way. Here's a breakdown of how Elevation works and what it offers.
Online students in the district are typically independent learners, skilled at time management and able to advocate for themselves, Elevation's website says. It aims to promote growth for already-successful students and provides targeted support for all students, including those who may have struggled in the past, the site adds.
Students in grades nine through 12 who live in the district can join. Others can enroll as well, but out-of-district enrollment is limited and has a waitlist in place, Hart said.
Expanding the district's previous online programming into a full-blown online school allows Cherry Creek to offer more courses to more students and allows kids to be full-time online students. That can open new doors for athletes who train dozens of hours weekly, or students who have jobs or miss school for medical reasons, Hart said.
Personalized education is a mantra for the school, with counselors, a school psychologist, mentors and a specialist in education for those with disabilities at the ready to help address each student's needs.
Elevation is free during the school year and tuition-based for summer school. Students must have access to high-speed internet at home and a working computer (PC or Mac).
Full-time students complete a “learner profile,” orientation and interview before enrollment will be offered, Elevation's site says.
Although the thrust of the school is online, students meet different teachers in person — and virtually — throughout the week. On top of that, all full-time students are assigned a mentor who works with the whole Elevation team to have students' backs.
“This support includes academic, post-secondary and social-emotional supports,” Hart said. “The role of the mentor is a cheerleader, coach, advocate and accountability partner.”
Face-to-face sessions occur at the district's 14603 E. Fremont Ave. building in central Centennial, near East Arapahoe and South Jordan roads.
Elevation offers core classes — including lab-based sciences — and elective classes. It partners with the district's traditional schools to provide courses such as music and studio arts.
“But we also have students who are full-time at our neighborhood schools taking one to two classes at Elevation, too,” Hart said. “Our goal is to provide opportunities and remove barriers for all students in Cherry Creek.”
Elevation has a specialist for Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs, which are for students with disabilities who receive special education and related services. Students can have an IEP while enrolled as a full-time online student, Hart said.
The specialist also handles 504 plans, named after a section of federal disability law. Those apply to students with disabilities who don't require specialized instruction but need assurance that they will receive equal access to education and services.
For more information on Elevation, see the school's website here.
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