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Logging into high school

East Ridge High School junior Lauren Yonkoski listens attentively to her French 3 teacher, however Lauren isn't sitting in a classroom. She's sitting at the computer listening to her teacher online.

Yonkoski is currently enrolled in French at Insight School of Minnesota, a virtual high school.

Yonkoski said Insight has given her the flexibility to fit French into her schedule when it wasn't feasible at East Ridge.

"It was either online or nothing," she said.

Yonkoski is one of nearly 400 Minnesota students who have taken the online high school approach, said Insight school head John Huber.

Only about 10 percent of those students are part-time, such as Yonkoski, Huber said.

Over the past year students who take online classes has nearly doubled, Huber said.

"As it becomes more widely accepted, online school presents those options for students to take their courses and possibly get their diploma," he said.

Minnesota has roughly 25 online high schools.

Getting some Insight

Insight School of Minnesota, which serves grades 9 through 12, opened in 2008. The school has a wide curriculum and provides Minnesota students with the opportunity to receive a state recognized diploma, Huber said.

"If a student chooses to come here and enroll full time, they could actually graduate with us," he said. "We offer everything a comprehensive high school does, including physical education.

"The only thing we can't offer are those classes that we can't feasibly replicate online such as band."

Credits for part-time students are transferred back to their home school.

Insight School of Minnesota's headquarters is in Brooklyn Center.

When a student chooses to enroll at Insight, tuition free, they are loaned a laptop for use during their classes, Huber said.

Insight students log in to the school's website and pull up the course or courses that they are taking where video tutorials with licensed teachers are available.

From there students watch the video, read through lessons, go through activities and instruction, complete homework assignments and take online exams.

Yonkoski said an average lesson and its homework takes her about a half hour to complete every day.

"I think it goes faster than a normal class," she said.

Yonkoski said taking an online class was challenging at first because she wasn't used to working entirely on her own.

"You kind of have to teach yourself," she said. "The online class was more challenging because I wasn't used to teaching myself, but it's easier to take the classes you want to and not having to fit it into a schedule -- there's a lot more complication with a normal school."

Additionally, students are also periodically connected with a live teacher through Web cam to ask questions and to work through problems.

Students are required to log in five times per week.

"What time they choose to log in is their decision," Huber said. "Going to an online school isn't necessarily easier but it is more flexible.

"The level of rigor is just as a high, but taking classes online provides the flexibility to the needs in a student's schedule."

In Yonkoski's case, she uses her open hour during her regular school day to complete her online French course.

However, she does use evenings occasionally if homework or other school-related activities come up.

"I can do the class when I want to," she said. "It's not as strict as regular school."

Insight's students

Huber said Insight -- and online schools in general -- attract a wide range of students including teen mothers, students who work during the day, students who were previously home schooled and even students who felt bullied or harassed at school.

"But the No. 1 reason why students want to go online is because they don't like the 'drama' at the school," Huber said.

Additionally, Huber said students are drawn to the individualized learning atmosphere.

"As classroom sizes increase, there are students who feel they need a little bit more individualized attention," he said.

Huber said many Insight students move on to graduate and eventually attend four-year colleges to be successful.

"We hope our students stay with us right to the end," he said.

Some critics of online schools claim students are missing out on the full high school experience. Huber disagreed.

Insight holds various social activities, group outings, clubs and even a prom, offline.

"It's always fun to watch some of those students who have connected online meet for the first time," Huber said.

Yonkoski said she has greatly enjoyed taking her French class online with Insight, and she said she might even consider with future classes.

"I've really enjoyed taking my classes online," she said. "You really do have more freedom."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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