Logging on to a new curriculum

Dinosaur school adjusting well after first semester as online learning center


Tyler McKay was not happy at school in Rangely.

"You can't really go at your own pace there," McKay said. "That was really annoying because you have to wait for everyone to catch up. I think that's why I failed."

McKay, 17, is a now a junior at Dinosaur Community Charter Learning Center, where he prefers the online format.

The school concludes its first semester as an online academy Friday, and students and teachers agree the transition has gone well.

McKay said his highest grade in Rangely was a D. His lowest score at Dinosaur so far is a B-.

Richard Blakley, Dinosaur's school board president, said it's amazing "to see the difference in these kids."

His son, Lando Blakley, an eighth-grader, has attended Dinosaur school for eight years. The school, formerly under Moffat County School District, was chartered under the district for two years. The school and district severed ties in August when Dinosaur purchased the building from the district and joined Hope Online.

"I learn a lot better this way," Lando said, noting the online classes are challenging.

The K-12 school has 25 students in two classrooms, supervised by two mentors and one teacher/site coordinator, who visits the school weekly from Denver.

The students complete online lessons and assignments and take tests. They type essays and watch science experiments on their computers.

"They have pretty nice graphics," said Carmen McKay, Tyler's stepmother and lead mentor at the school.

Mentors and teachers can track students' progress and reassign lessons if more help is needed. Men-

tors and teachers can advance students to the next grade level once they are competent in the grade's topics and pass related tests.

Parents can also access educational information at home to track their children's progress.

Carmen said she likes that she can monitor students' time and computer use -- Internet sites other than Hope Online ones are blocked -- and that students get individualized curriculum.

Plus, students don't get behind in a large classroom if they do not immediately grasp a particular concept.

"Students don't have to be embarrassed if they don't understand it," Carmen said. "And they can work at their own pace."

Lando also said he enjoys the small class size at the learning center.

"We have one-on-one teaching," he said. "You don't have to worry about the teacher not getting to you."

Carmen said a misconception about online schools is that students do nothing but computer work all day.

Lando said he spends about half of his day online and the rest interacting with teachers and other students.

"I think the kids are doing excellent," Richard said.

He said state Sen. Al White and state Rep. Jack Taylor visited the center in November to see how it operates.

"They were really impressed with how well it was working and how content the kids were," Richard said.

Carmen, who worked at Dinosaur for two years as a paraprofessional before becoming lead mentor this year, said she is happy with how the school runs and how the students have transitioned.

She said she sees the benefits of traditional classroom instruction and online schooling. But, for Dinosaur, Carmen thinks this format is effective.

"They get the best of two worlds," she said. "They get the technology and the one-on-one."

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