Taking the Fast Track

Breanna Potier and M. Hunter Gravois have something in common: sizable goals that require a special kind of school to achieve.

Potier and Gravois, both 9th graders, think they have found that special school in University View Academy, a public K-12 online school. For the 2017-2018 academic year, UVA is piloting an early college program that allows students statewide to be high school students and college students at the same time.

Because UVA offers a high school degree that is taken totally online, their students have the flexibility to take on-campus classes at any college in the state. They can also take college classes online.   

Chartered by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, UVA has been approved for 50 students for this year’s Early College pilot program, according to UVA Superintendent Lonnie Luce. Eligible students set to graduate high school in 2021 could be handed two degrees when they walk the stage. In addition to the high school diploma, they could also get a two-year associate’s degree from the community college that is nearest them and offers the degree they wish to obtain.  

Students will have options. They can take 60 credit hours of general education courses that will allow them to attend a four-year college as a junior straight out of high school or get an associate’s technical degree or diploma. With a technical degree, students could enter the workforce straight from high school with the credentials for careers such as paralegal, medical assistant, or process technology, a degree that trains people to operate complex equipment at chemical plants.

If the college course covers the same material that a required high school course covers, the college course counts as both college credit and high school credit, Luce said.

In the cases of Gravois and Potier, if they stay on track, they will be college graduates two or more years earlier than their peers. Gravois’ goal is to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a university known internationally for its science and engineering programs. Potier’s goal is to receive a Ph.D. in psychology.  

“I am very excited,” Potier said. “I want to jump start my career.”

Even better, the associate’s degree is free for the student. UVA will use its per-student state allotment to pay for each student’s college tuition, Luce said. UVA is able to pay for college classes because most community college instructors earn less than certified high school teachers.  

Because the first two years of college will be free for eligible UVA students, any student who is also eligible for the state’s TOPS college scholarship could have two years left of free tuition after graduating to use for a graduate program. If all goes well, that savings means that Potier could be well on her way to the Ph.D. by the time she’s 21, the age college students typically graduate with a bachelor’s degree.    

Until recently, UVA, which is located in Baton Rouge, was called Louisiana Connections Academy, and it was affiliated with a national network that offers high school degrees via the web. According to Luce, student performance scores in the past necessitated a change and a new name.
“We want to show that we can take online student performance to a higher level,” he said. UVA teachers will focus on student engagement and personalizing education to fit each student.

While it’s common for local K-12 school systems in Louisiana and nationally to have agreements with nearby community colleges to allow students to be dual enrolled, Luce notes that as far as he knows, UVA is the only statewide program in the nation. 
All of UVA’s high school students are encouraged to earn some college credits before they graduate. Luce especially wants students to take college English and math courses because these are the courses that have high dropout rates. If students take them while still in high school, they have access to UVA teachers for help, he said.

Even though UVA is an online school, it encourages early college students to attend classes on campus, so that they will have experience with the college environment before heading off to a university.

Parents choose web-based K-12 schools rather than brick and mortar schools for a variety of reasons. In some classes, bullying requires a change. Sometimes the parents travel and want their children to travel with them. Occasionally, the students themselves need location flexibility because they are actors or training for sports competitions.

Virtual learning programs such as UVA’s are also alternatives to home schooling. When parents home school their children, they direct most of the learning themselves.

Both Potier and Gravois started attending UVA several years ago because their schools didn’t meet their special needs. Because of attention disorder problems, Potier found regular classrooms too noisy to concentrate. Gravois required a more challenging academic environment.

“Hunter has always been an early learner,” according to his mother, Amy Gravois. Even after he skipped two grades, she said, “he still needed more.”  
Because of his gifted status, his mother acknowledges that it has been difficult to find a school capable of moving him in the direction of a university as demanding as MIT. “He wants to learn at a rate that is going to challenge him to reach that goal,” she said. “I am happy we have found a good fit for him.”

Hunter Gravois, who is only 12, is looking forward to attending college classes in a regular classroom. He is comfortable around older students, and, he said, “I like the idea of being close to a library.”



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