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Online Students Hold Virtual Town Hall

Students from a local charter school teleconference with Orange County politicians to learn about the legislative process.

How does a virtual school take field trips? It borrows from the corporate world and hosts a teleconference, of course.

Capistrano Connections Academy is an online K-12 charter school through that opened in 2004. It allows students to “attend” class via their home computers.

So it recently hosted Q&A sessions with two local politicians the same way.

“It interests me what is happening in our country and how the people who are put into power are handling it,” said Austin Cuevas, a 17-year-old junior who lives in Mission Viejo.

In March, students “met” Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point, and earlier this month, they talked with state Sen. Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Niguel.

Patch was able to listen in on the virtual roundtable with Walters. The students asked questions about lawmaking strategies and how the senator goes about representing her 1 million constituents.

“Unfortunately, you’re not going to make everybody happy,” she told the students. “I let everyone know where I stand. I believe I represent the majority of the people in my district very well.”

Teacher Keenen Kibrick, a first-year teacher with Capo Connections who came from Los Angeles Unified, was very impressed with his students’ questions.

“I thought they were amazing. They were asking questions that we so sophisticated about what the role of a senator is,” said Kibrick, who also leads the school’s debate team. “They got to speak to people in politics that most people don’t think they can ever reach.”

It was the first time the students got their own private, virtual town hall with local politicians, Kibrick said. While it was not a requirement of his students’ classwork and attendance wasn’t part of their grade, all are anxious to meet other community leaders online.

Students come to an online school for a variety of reasons, Kibrick said. Sometimes they want to move at a faster pace than traditional schools, sometimes slower. Sometimes, they have very busy schedules that require a more flexible education.

Kibrick finds it not much different than a brick-and-mortar school, other than he’s not sharing the same physical space with the students. They go into virtual classrooms for lessons and communicate through email and phone calls.

Up until last year, Cuevas was in private school. And struggling.

“I’m getting way better grades this year,” he said. Cuevas spends about five hours a day “in class” online.

“What I really like about it is learning at my own pace. The teachers are really there to help me,” he said.

While charter schools are public schools, they direct funding away from traditional classrooms. Capistrano Unified is starting two online schools of its own in fall, for high school students and for K-8.  Both are enrolling students for their fall debut.

Capistrano Connections – part of a larger chain of online schools – serves 1,700 students, 372 of whom live in Orange County. Although it pulls students from the surrounding counties, its head office is in Aliso Viejo. Enrollment is now open for this school as well.

shelly April 16, 2012 at 10:01 PM
What a cool opportunity!

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