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Archive for July, 2009
Online charter middle school in St. Paul gains IB certification July 31st, 2009

GREGORY A. PATTERSON, Star Tribune

Cyber Village Academy, one of Minnesota’s first online schools, has become the state’s first charter school to win International Baccalaureate certification for its middle-school program.

The development for the academy, which is based in St. Paul, shows how tough competition for students has become not only between traditional public and charter schools, but also among online schools. One result is that Minnesota students should have more and better school choices; another is that online education will continue to grow in the future, education experts said Monday.

International Baccalaureate (IB) programs are highly regarded for requiring students to meet high international standards, for their focus on global issues and for their encouragement of students to contribute in their own communities.

Cyber Village Academy has a unique mixture of online and classroom instruction. From Monday through Wednesday, students go to school; on Thursday and Friday, they study from home, take field trips, go to libraries or otherwise participate in distance learning.

Cyber Village is hoping the IB stamp can bring in more students for its grades four through eight. When the school got its start 11 years ago, even the word “cyber” was new to most people. “We were the only game in town,” said school director David Alley.

But a procession of competition from newly minted online schools whittled the school’s enrollment to 116 at the end of last year, from about 180 in 2001 when it had two locations.

“We needed, in marketing terms, to differentiate ourselves,” Alley said. “What made sense was the IB program … so we could stand out in the market.”

Gaining the IB certification also meant convincing the Geneva, Switzerland-based organization that a school with a big online component could meet its rigorous requirements. The school has been working on gaining accreditation for four years and has been teaching the IB curriculum for two years, Alley said.

IB spokeswoman Sandra Coyle said Cyber Village was certified based on its classroom instruction, not its online component.

“They spend enough time in the classroom to qualify,” Coyle said.

Regardless of its emphasis on classroom time, the IB organization is moving into online learning, too. This year the organization began offering teacher training over the web, and it has begin designing an online diploma program.

“The IB curriculum is a strong curriculum,” said Joe Nathan, director of the Humphrey Institute’s Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota. And it is one that can be taught through Cyber Village’s online and in-class mix, he added.

Cyber Village parents seem to agree. “I really like the fact that it is an International Baccalaureate school,” said Lisa Gale, who has a fifth-grader and a seventh-grader at the school. Working independently on Thursday and Friday has helped her children set priorities and manage their time, she said.

“What we’re seeing all over the state,” Nathan said, “are districts and charter schools looking for ways to increase their effectiveness and attractiveness to families. Which is a good thing.”

Gregory A. Patterson • 612-673-7287

July 28, 2009

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