Virtual schooling taking off among high school students


John McKitrick teaches geography and government via "live lessons" with a web cam. He posts lectures on message boards and uploads assignments online -- all from his Spring-area home.

"The students can do their assignments in the morning, afternoon, at night, on weekends," McKitrick said.

He and other cyber-teachers are available via email or cell phone virtually around the clock, which is great for busy students like 16-year-old Shannon McNatt.

"I've even called a teacher at 9 o'clock at night and they answer and help me with a question," McNatt said.

McNatt trains at Stars Gymnastics six days a week, for an average of 6 hours a day. She hopes to compete in the NCAA so traditional schooling isn't flexible enough for her.

"I think she's getting more one-on-one attention. If she has a question , she'll call and chat with him directly," McNatt's mother, Karen McNatt, said.

And more students are getting hooked on this concept. Connections Academy is one of three virtual schools in Texas and has a wait list of thousands.

"About 70 percent of our students are eighth grade and above. We do have third through 12th. High school is bulging," Connections Academy Executive Director Lea Ann Lockard said.

Teachers' curriculums are approved by the Texas Education Agency. And state tests are proctored in-person. At Connections, students must follow a strict honor code, agreeing not to cheat or plagiarize.

But what about old fashioned face-to-face interaction? McNatt says she keeps up with friends during tutoring sessions at the library, at church and at the gym.

"I know the sacrifices I'm making. Sometimes my dad is like, 'Well is it really worth it?' I'm always like yes, because this is what I really want to do," she said.

As for the educators, Connection's principal summed it up best. She focuses on educating and leaves the disciplining to parents.

"This is the most excited principal you'll ever meet. I don't have to tell anyone to pull up their pants," Lockard said.

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