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Sara Stone, left, is the principal of Options Career & College Academy, and Trisha Spende is the director of blended and online learning for Options Virtual Charter School.

ELKHORN

Stasha Brewer works fast.

She didn’t like the pace of traditional public schools—she said it felt like a waste of her time, and she was bored out of her mind after finishing her work early.

Brewer, 17, has “absolutely” loved studying at Options Virtual Charter School, however, and is about to start her senior year. She has gotten and will continue to pick up college credits.

A new program is going to help other high school students accomplish that and possibly more, including getting full degrees before graduating high school.

The Elkhorn Area School District last week introduced the Options Career and College Academy, known as OCCA, which is within the charter school in Elkhorn.

And Elkhorn school officials are opening it up to interested students across the state.

“Our goal is to allow kids to graduate high school and leave with, basically, their career credentials ready to go so they can enter the job force right away,” said Elkhorn Superintendent Jason Tadlock.

“And I think what’s unique is through this partnership with Gateway (Technical College), they can do these classes 100% online.”

He said students don’t have to complete the tuition-free online programs if they only want to get a jump start on credits.

One benefit, Tadlock pointed out, is having students acquire courses that fit under the UW System’s Universal Credit Transfer Agreement, which is a set of classes that transfer between all schools in that system and the Wisconsin Technical College System.

“Let’s face it, college is expensive,” he said. “And if we can help by providing that access to the kids while they’re in high school, I think that’s just a great benefit to the students and to their families.”

Some of the large introductory classes can be where new students hit a wall because they are overwhelmed and don’t make it through the minutiae, he said. That can lead to students dropping out.

OCCA and programs Tadlock has seen like it in Minnesota, Texas and California can help students more quickly get to the classes and programs specific to their interests.

He cautioned students, however, and said it is important to check with a given institution to see exactly how the transfers come over—whether they cover prerequisites or just electives, for example.

Some of the technical diplomas, professional certifications and associate degrees high school students can complete are in areas such as accounting, software development, small business entrepreneurship, supply chain management and more.

Sara Stone is the principal of Options Career & College Academy. She said programs such as hers offer flexibility and guidance for students and parents.

“We can’t think of a better opportunity than sending our students out ready to make a livable wage or be well prepared for college and in a position to save thousands of dollars,” the OCCA website states.

Tadlock is working with UW-Whitewater on setting up a program where students take certain courses that let them complete their degrees at UW-W in three years.

Tadlock likes those interested in online schooling to have a blended approach with some face-to-face teaching. But he said OCCA will expand opportunities to students across the state.

Although Brewer knows it’s not for everyone, she “absolutely” loves what she’s been able to do through Options.

She has taken classes toward a business management degree, but she recently found a spark of interest in information technology.

“So (after this school year), I’ll be about one-third of the way done with my associate degree by the time I graduate,” she said. “Which is amazing, because that was time that could have been wasted if I wasn’t in this school.”

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