River Forest wants to save budget with ‘virtual’ education option
By Carole Carlson email@example.com/302-0949 January 13, 2014 2:58PM
River Forest High School teacher Beau Bruemmer offers instruction to Ariel Termini, 18, left, and Adrian Corral, 16. The students' academic program is guided by an A+ computer software curriculum that will be used in the district's new online virtual academy. | Carole Carlson/Post-Tribune
Orientation: 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at River Forest Senior-Junior High School, Door C, 3300 Indiana St., Hobart Twp.
Updated: February 15, 2014 6:10AM
HOBART TOWNSHIP — Facing a growing budget deficit and shrinking enrollment, the River Forest Community School Corp. hopes to reverse the trend with an online program that allows students to learn at home, but enjoy extra-curricular pursuits at school.
The River Forest Virtual Academy gets underway this month as school officials hold a mandatory orientation and registration program at 5 p.m. Wednesday at River Forest Junior-Senior High School, 3300 Indiana St.
Enrollment continues until the beginning of February.
“We’re facing a financial crisis,” said Superintendent James Rice who saw enrollment drop by 50 students last fall, which translated into $404,000 decline in state aid. That came on top of $273,000 the district lost through the state’s budget formula.
Rice said the advent of charter schools and the state’s new voucher program is decimating his district’s enrollment as parents turn to trendy programs.
He said River Forest’s academic program still remains strong, but the loss of students is making it tough to maintain programs.
Rice and River Forest Senior-Junior High Principal Shayne Snider hope offering the online academic program, with the perks of being able to still play sports and attend the prom, will be enough to keep kids from dropping out or going to another school.
“We think once the general public becomes familiar with it will be a popular option,” said Rice.
Snider said the virtual school would accept students from outside the River Forest district. Students who successfully graduate would receive a River Forest diploma.
“We’re creating kind of a hybrid mix,” said Snider, who’s been at River Forest for seven years and is working on his education doctorate in virtual learning.
So far, about 10 families have expressed interest and the district has started a Facebook page for the online program. “We’re trying to blast it out there,” said Snider. The district can accommodate at least 88 kids, he said.
Two teachers — Chuck Cullison and Beau Bruemmer — will serve as program facilitators who monitor students and answer their questions.
“This takes us out of the Henry Ford era and six periods a day,” said Cullison, who teachers math and science. “The biggest thing is, kids can take off from where they’re at (academically) and the teacher can be the facilitator, not just a talking head.”
Snider said students can study during the evening or weekends.
“Kids will always be enrolled in seven classes,” said Snider who said online work is strictly monitored.
Students must come to River Forest to take state-required tests, such as the end-of-course assessments and final exams.
Because it offers an alternative school for 30 students from River Forest and Lake Station high schools, River Forest already had the A+ software it’s using in the virtual school. “We can accommodate as many who apply,” Snider said.
Students in the alternative school program like the idea.
“I get distracted at school a lot,” said Ariel Termini, 18. “I’d do better academically. I’d like to do it.”
Natalie Sanchez, 17, said she could stay more focused in the comfort of her own home.
Following the software program, which is aligned to Common Core standards, a student may complete requirements for a Core 40 diploma, a general diploma, or a Core 40 honors diploma, Snider said. They are also adding a foreign language component.
Rice said the Indiana Department of Education has signed off on the program, as has the Indiana High School Athletic Association.
Bryan Daulton, director of technology at River Forest, said students must have a computer and Internet access to enroll in the virtual academy. He said Comcast is offering assistance to provide Internet access to low-income families.