Menomonee Falls - Proudly donning a bright pink Wisconsin Connections Academy T-shirt, Emma Molli could not wait to showoff her day's lessons. The bright-eyed first-grader in Menomonee Falls starts her day like most children; however, instead of heading to a classroom she stations herself in front of a computer and attends WCA, a tuition free, virtual public charter school authorized through the Appleton School District and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
As a young child preparing for kindergarten, Emma had a broad range of interests and was showing advanced skills in reading and writing. Her mom, Erika Molli, said they wanted to find a school that would not only keep Emma engaged, but challenge her. They looked into the Menomonee Falls School District and private schools, before they saw a commercial for WCA.
"I went to one of the informational meetings they have during the Open Enrollment period and we went and talked to some of the families who have children enrolled in the program and they said it's wonderful," Erika said. "The teachers can work one-on-one with you and it's at your own pace so if you work ahead it works out and it seemed like the right thing to do."
The family decided to try online learning for a year while Emma was in kindergarten. She enjoyed it so much, they gave her a choice to attend public school or continue with WCA and she chose the latter, ensuring Emma is able to continue forming her social skills through Girl Scouts and dance classes through the Community Education and Recreation Department.
Emma reads between a second- and third-grade level. Through WCA she is able to get assignments and projects that fit her level. Emma proudly said she is currently reading "Harry Potter," adding she wants to be challenged even more.
Tailored to each child
"The curriculum can be really tailored to her specific needs," Erika said. "Her first-grade teacher developed an advanced reading group, reading above grade level, so she has additional projects and books to keep her more engaged so she doesn't get bored with it."
The schooling is not for everyone, Erika said. They have a 4-year-old who started kindergarten with the Menomonee Falls School District, having given her the same choice. Erika said her 4-year-old is more inclined to learn in a group setting.
Emma's days are not all that different from other children her age. Her attendance is recorded every day before she dives into different lessons. Every day Emma must complete lessons in language arts and math. She also has lessons in science, social studies, art and physical education depending on the day. She also goes on field trips with fellow WCA students, such as the ballet or the zoo.
Lessons involve tutorials, online learning games, and projects and tests in each subject. For one of Emma's favorite subjects - science - she recently created a clay volcano. The volcano was photographed and submitted digitally to be graded by her teacher.
"Science is my favorite part of school, and social studies because I get to do lots of projects and stuff," Emma said, adding she also likes clicking through learning games on the computer.
The biggest benefit for the family is the individualized lessons to meet Emma's needs. An added bonus for them is the flexibility of when they can complete lessons during the day. For example, on Thursdays, Erika and Emma tackle volunteer projects during the afternoon. Because the lessons don't have to occur during a specific part of the day, they are able to fit these projects into their schedule.
"On some days, there are more lessons so we kind of work with our schedules to build the best thing for us," Erika said. "It's not home schooling. This is a very structured program, there are teachers, there are principals, there's a whole staff at school and a counselor available online and it's completely accredited by the Department of Public Instruction."
WCA must meet the same criteria as public schools for elementary, middle and high school, and their students take the same accountability tests and meet performance standards. For the last seven years WCA has met national Adequate Yearly Progress standards, according to Laura Krinkle, who handles public relations for WCA.
"At WCA, accountability to the students and parents is a must. In annual satisfaction surveys, 93 percent of WCA parents rate the curriculum as high quality," she said.
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