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Janesville's ARISE Virtual Academy unlike any other in the state

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Wednesday, May 10, 2017

JANESVILLE—Models, hockey players, travelers, under achievers, over achievers, kids with special needs and a variety of other independent spirits have found a place at ARISE Virtual Academy.

The charter school is an online school that is unlike any other in the state and possibly in the nation.

About 280 students from kindergarten to 12th grade are enrolled in ARISE, said Dave Parr, teacher and dean of students at the school. The school was created partially in to response to students open enrolling out of the district to “attend” online schools offered by other school districts.

When they developed ARISE, district staff knew they had to provide something different to make their school stand out. It needed an edge over already established online ventures.

Their answer?

Duplicating the connection between teachers and students found in the classroom.

“We are the only ones in the state that have a mentorship program,” Parr said.

Students have mentors who stay with them throughout their careers at the school.

The mentors hold conferences with students at least four times a year, check in weekly and track student progress.

If students get behind or are not making weekly progress, they or their parents will get a call or an email.

“It's all about relationships,” Parr said. “Each mentor gets to know that student incredibly well.”

Those relationships help students thrive.

The other unique feature?

The school has a physical presence at Franklin Middle School. Students can go to the school building to work, get help or see their peers.

ARISE runs 365 days a year, and does take students who have been expelled. Those students can go into the school to work only on Saturdays.

Students who are behind in credits are required to work year-round until they catch up, Parr said.

Parents and students pick virtual school for a variety of reasons. Some parents travel and want to take their kids with them. Others play in sports that require a lot of travel. Parr even had a high school student who had modeling gigs and couldn't be in school on a regular basis.

Students who emailed The Gazette about ARISE said almost universally they liked working independently.

Carrie Loveland decided to send her kids to ARISE after she encountered problems in her home district.

Two of her children have special needs. Her teen was subjected to racist name-calling in the halls of his public high school, she said.

School was terrifying for the younger children. They felt left behind and marginalized. The teen, being a teen, did not want to complain, she said.

Her daughter, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, moves slowly, especially in the morning. Learning at home is perfect for her.

Loveland also appreciates how patient school staff are with kids during their “in school” time.

“When he goes in to test or for something, they're really good,” Loveland said. “They're not as judgmental.”

Like many people, Loveland sees ARISE as apart from the public schools, even though it's run by the Janesville School District.

“I would never, ever send them to public school again,” Loveland said.

WHO SUCCEEDS?

Many of the students who attend ARISE struggle with social anxiety, and ARISE gives them the chance to be in school in a traditional way—in a classroom at Franklin—or they can work at home. All students have the option of taking individual courses such as art, music, or orchestra at a traditional school. They can also participate in school clubs or sports.

But the school isn't for everyone, Parr said.

Within two weeks, staff can tell who is going to succeed.

Assignments are due each day before 11 p.m.

“We've tracked it. Students who get up, do their school work first and turn it in succeed about 100 percent of the time,” Parr said.

Students who wait until the last minute to hit the send button almost always wash out of the program.

Like other charter schools, students are ultimately responsible for getting their work done.

Since the school opened in 2007, the district has made a variety of changes to its operations.

Many of the recent changes were a result of the school's state report card score of 43.1, which falls into the state category of “fails to meet expectations."

Parr described the school's score as “abysmal.”

Issues being addressed include:

-- Graduation rates. Some students attend ARISE for a while and then return to a brick-and-mortar school. For reporting purposes, it looks as though those students drop out. Now, ARISE staff track all of the high school students who return to Craig or Parker to see if they graduate.

“Our graduation rate is about 90 to 92 percent,” Parr said.

-- Truancy. The school considers carefully before accepting students who have been “habitual nonattenders.”

“We can't fix truancy,” Parr said.

-- ACT scores: The state mandated that all high school juniors take the ACT.

“We no longer take juniors two weeks before the ACT,” Parr said.

The school wants to make sure the students who are taking the test are prepared for it.

The state's school report cards are calculated on a three-year rolling average.

As the school moves forward, Parr expects its scores to improve.



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