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Online, on course: Austintown district’s new program gives students an alternative

Published: Mon, December 20, 2010 @ 12:10 a.m.


The Vindicator (Youngstown)

Nate Masterson and Janet Polish work on some course work at the new alternative school at Fitch High School which allows any interested student to join the program and learn from home.


The Vindicator (Youngstown)

The exterior of the new trailers next to Austintown Fitch High School where students in the new alternative school work on assignments and lessons. The trailers are new and have only been used in the last week.

By Kristine Gill



School wasn’t moving fast enough for Nate Masterson.

The Fitch High School sophomore enrolled in the new alternative-school program so he could learn at his own pace.

“I wanted to be ahead,” he said. “I wanted to learn more, faster.”

Nate is one of about 70 students in the Austintown school district who have opted for the K-12 online program. Any student can enroll, and they choose to for a variety of reasons.

“There are 70-some students and 70-some reasons why they’re doing it,” said Janet Polish, coordinator of alternative-school and online programs. She also is the principal of this new program.

Polish was part-time principal of the alternative program that existed for seven years before this school year. That program offered nontraditional school hours where students could come in from 3 to 6 p.m. after the regular school day to receive their education. Coursework was not done online, and students usually had behavioral or academic problems that forced them out of the classroom.

“We opened up the possibilities with this program,” Polish said, adding that it was necessary considering the number of competing charter and online schools.

“Everyone is going to start doing this because everyone is losing their own kids,” she said.

And though students leave the district each year in hopes of finding a more suitable environment for themselves, Polish hopes the new structure will give them another option.

Now, students can use a computer lab on the Fitch campus housed in two trailers that sit near the high school. There are 48 computers and two tutors who supervise students from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fridays. Teachers from each of the major disciplines have regular hours and days for visits throughout the week when students can get help and are in e-mail communication the rest of the week.

Students spend most of their time at home or in the lab using software called iQity.

“It can get boring, but there’s some interesting stuff in here,” Nate said, scrolling through a lesson that included links to relevant YouTube videos.

For classes such as physical education, students are still required to do things such as run a mile and time it, or do pull-ups. These activities usually have to be signed off by a parent. For the digital-photography class, students will submit photos to be graded online.

If they choose to come to the lab, students get breaks to socialize with one another and eat lunch. Students can get food from the high school cafeteria and can still attend events such as prom and play sports. They receive their diplomas from Fitch High School.

Social interaction is a major concern for online learners, which is why Nate said he’ll likely head back to the brick and mortar of Fitch High School for his senior year.

“I want to do all the senior activities,” he said.

In the meantime, he doesn’t feel he’s missing out on much.

“I have friends in here,” he said, adding that he carpools with a friend who attends Fitch.

Nate said most of his friends weren’t fazed when he said he was taking the alternative program, but there are misconceptions.

“Some think it’s the easy way out,” he said.

The program is funded through a state grant for alternative schools. That $37,000 the district receives annually goes toward salaries for the two new tutors, and the school used its general funds to purchase the online software and curriculum. Austintown teachers receive a stipend to teach each of the classes. Many supplement the given curriculum with their own materials and communicate with students on a regular basis. Teachers grade those assignments, which can’t be assessed by a computer.

While the basis of the school is flexibility, there are rules. Students aren’t allowed to surf the Internet while in the lab and can’t use cell phones. Polish contacts parents when a student’s assignments aren’t turned in on time and if grades are low. There’s a dress code, too.

The program is open to all grade levels, but most are middle or high school students now.

Should the program continue to grow, Polish said the district has considered housing it in the old Davis Elementary School building, which is vacant.

Tutor Bonnie Centofanti, who has been with the district for a little over a month, likes the program so far and thinks the students function better in a classroom setting versus learning at home.

“I like it, but it’s not for everybody,” she said.


1Freeatlast(1991 comments)posted 5 years, 7 months ago

We can assume that you are in perfect shape Union . Thank you for your comment, we are sure it will help him .

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2Wakeup722(37 comments)posted 5 years, 7 months ago

Another negative ignorant posting by union. What's new?

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3MLC75(661 comments)posted 5 years, 7 months ago

@union you are a low class jerk,what a negative pos you are.

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4mahoningvalley12(36 comments)posted 5 years, 7 months ago

this young man missed 30+ school days last year while attending the ninth grade...im willing to bet there is some other type of motivation behind this besides that school wasn't moving fast enough for him ...what a joke

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5puck(4 comments)posted 5 years, 7 months ago

This seems to be a great program. It's refreshing to see a district realize that some students learn in different ways and accommodate them. I hope other area schools will follow their lead.

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61970mach1(1005 comments)posted 5 years, 7 months ago

(“I wanted to learn more, faster.”)

I wonder if he said it that way of if Vindy aded the comment.

The remark about the fried chicken is way out of line.

Probably a problem that he missed 30 days. Let's hope this online thing works for him and others.

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7JamesVasconi(3 comments)posted 5 years, 7 months ago

Thank goodness the Vindy deleted that comment. (Hopefully they deleted UnionForever's account, too.)

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8YSUPenguin(30 comments)posted 5 years, 7 months ago

Yeah right...school wasn't moving fast enough for him. Ha! I find that hard to believe. These kids need to go to school like everyone else and stop making excuses for being lazy.

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9captainpeewee(76 comments)posted 5 years, 7 months ago

Union has a point, other people have opinions besides you self loathing white liberals, running around y-town with your tales between yor lags hoping and praying that some dosen,t call you a racest,

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10Freeatlast(1991 comments)posted 5 years, 7 months ago

The only point union has is to make somebody feel bad about them self . You ,I or union does not have any idea who this kid is or what is in his life . It looks like he may be trying to pull himself up and you and Union are just pulling him down . Go for it Nate and I hope you all the good luck you can get . Just keep working and you will make it

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11300(573 comments)posted 5 years, 7 months ago

I see no mention of missing 30+ days of school in this article.

MahoningValley, if you work at Austintown and released this information, you could be in for some trouble. If that's the case, I hope this kid sues you, and you lose your job over it.

You can't go around saying things concerning an individual student, and they can trace your IP address to find your real identity.

Union IS a racist, there's no questions about that.

Good luck to this student, the traditional route isn't always best for every student.

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12Wakeup722(37 comments)posted 5 years, 7 months ago

Captainpeewee...love the way you judge people posting on here. Try looking at yourself. Oh...and learn how to spell.

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13prodgodq(172 comments)posted 5 years, 7 months ago

If Union gets his (I'll assume it's a "him") account deleted then it's his fault. Look at the terms of service for this message board. You are here as a guest of the paper. There should be some sort of decorum to message boards and I'm glad to see the moderators are paying attention to the neanderthals who hide behind their keyboarda.
To Captainpeewee: I find your user name ironic.

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14Freeatlast(1991 comments)posted 5 years, 7 months ago

Union is also know as USA1 , Pro American , Censoredship . All the same person or the same mentally.

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15southsidedave(5199 comments)posted 5 years, 6 months ago

Par for the course; cater to the minorities, they have been wronged by society, LOL.

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