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Virtual school option increasingly popular among Hoosier families

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — National School Choice Week is underway. It’s a week dedicated to highlighting options.

With public, private, magnet, charter or home schooling options, there’s a lot to think about. But can a smartphone, tablet or computer replace a classroom? It’s a question some are asking, as virtual schools across the county take on more students.

Indiana virtual school has been in existence for seven years, but school officials say the student population has jumped in the last two years. This past year, they say student enrollment increased 36 percent.

“I can remember when we had zero students and as we’re speaking right now, we have 6,000 plus students,” said Dr. Percy Clark, Superintendent of IVS.

Indiana Virtual School is a free, online charter school for 6th through 12th grade students in our state. Clark says they have at least one or more students from all 92 counties and 42 teachers total now.

As enrollment increases, so does state funding for the school.

“The money follows the student in the state of Indiana,” Clark said.

Recently, the nonprofit Chalkbeat criticized IVS for having the lowest graduation rate of any public school in the state. The Department of Education reports, last year’s graduation rate is under 7 percent.

“We have to admit students, we’re a public school, we can’t turn students away. So we can’t just take the good students, and by the way, we don’t take just the good students, just the opposite, we take those struggling students,” Clark said.

IVS officials say the graduation rate is low because many of their students face unique challenges, like health conditions, discipline or learning issues, teen pregnancy or even problems with bullying.

For others, it’s a way to learn at their own pace.

Brothers Nathan and Matthew Ballard are different ages, 17 and 15 years old, but they’re both senior year students at IVS.

“A little friendly competition, we’ll compete in the same class,” Nathan said.

The brothers also compete through on their local high school’s swim team, and are able to do so by taking two classes there.

“In the afternoon, we get the social interaction with normal high school students and those classes, and you can compare and contrast. I think people need to stop stereotyping online vs. normal high school and realize it depends on the person, attitude, motivation, your goals,” Nathan said.

For their mom, Jennifer Ballard, a mother of six boys, her goal was to find the best fit for her family.

“We have a large family, different age groups. Some kids do very, very well being in a classroom, please keep them there. Some kids do better online and away from other kids, give them that option,” Ballard said.

It’s an option some teachers are choosing as well.

Jennifer Purcell teaches 6th and 7th grade math at IVS.

“I use an online booking system, so my students book time with me. I have appointments throughout the day where we do discussions or help sessions with math,” Purcell explained.

“It’s not an option from everyone, just like a brick and mortar school is not an option for everyone and homeschooling is not an option for everyone, because students are so unique, but this is a very good option for many, many students,” Purcell said.

Right now, 203 students have graduated from the school. For more information, click here.

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