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Cyber-school idea nets pupils and results



Published: Sun, August 26, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Opening enrollment is expected to be somewhere between 50 and 60 pupils.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

GROVE CITY, Pa. -- There's a new school opening next month in western Pennsylvania, but it has no buses, buildings or classrooms.

The Western Regional Virtual Charter School is a cyber school -- pupils will attend classes over the Internet.

"We're ready to go," said Domenic J. Ionta, president of the school's board of trustees and superintendent of the Union Area School District in Lawrence County. Classes begin Sept. 4.

The cyber school was an idea put together by the 27 superintendents of the public school districts in Mercer, Lawrence and Butler counties to combat the loss of their pupils to cyber schools outside the tri-county area.

The board of trustees has contracted with Midwestern Intermediate Unit IV, an arm of the state that already provides educational services to all 27 of the districts, to run the program.

Looking at costs: The superintendents had predicted they could provide a full curriculum for kindergarten through the 12th grade at a cost of less $3,000 a year. Ionta said the final numbers came in better than predicted. The cost will be just $2,000 a year, he said.

It's a cost that will be picked up by each pupil's home school district, under state charter school laws.

Jill Manczka, distance education-planning coordinator for Intermediate Unit IV, said the school will operate at cost.

It will provide pupils with a home personal computer equipped with monitor, printer and scanner for use while they are enrolled. The computer remains school property and must be returned when the pupil graduates or leaves the school.

All programming will originate from the Intermediate Unit IV office in Grove City.

Enrollment: Manczka said 12 pupils between kindergarten and 12th grade have enrolled so far. She is talking with more than 50 prospective pupils interested in the program.

Total enrollment should be between 50 and 60 pupils at the start of the fall session, but it's an open program, so children can enroll any time during the school term, she said.

Interested pupils can contact her at the Intermediate Unit office in Grove City at (724) 458-6700 or their high school office.

All of those enrolled so far are from the tri-county area, but some of the interest has come from other areas of the state, Manczka said.

Enrollment efforts are concentrating in Mercer, Lawrence and Butler counties, however, she said.

Manczka said some of those who have contacted her are already involved in home schooling, some are teen parents who want to continue their education while caring for their children, some have dropped out of school and want to go back and some are pupils just interested in a cyber school or who have trouble functioning in the traditional school environment.

The school offers a full curriculum of reading, math, science, language arts, literature and writing.

Pupils must put in four personal appearances a year at the Intermediate Unit offices, first for orientation and a health screening, then for an educational assessment, again for midterm tests and again for final exams.

First in region: Western Regional is not the first cyber charter school in the region, however.

The Midland School District in Beaver County launched the Western Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School a year ago and has 500 pupils.

Ohio opened its first Internet charter school last fall in Toledo, and it serves pupils across the state.

gwin@vindy.com




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