Expect more students to choose online school as fall semester begins – St George News
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NS. GEORGE – That The coming school year is expected to set a new record for the total number of online enrollments. Officials with the statewide online education program expect the increase in online teaching offered by districts in Utah will fuel that growth.
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Since 2011, the state of Utah has offered public high school education through the online program. Grade 6 through 12 students can earn credit by taking full-time or part-time online courses offered by multiple providers, including Utah Online School, Utah Virtual Academy, and more.
Program Specialist Cory Kanth said the number of students and the total number of credits required have increased since the program began, and she expects another year of significant growth.
“We’ve seen record numbers all last year,” said Kanth. “We had to open special late-start sessions in the spring of 2020 when the pandemic started, and we’ve seen an increase since then.”
The Utah Online School, located in the Washington County School District, serves as the microcosm for larger statewide programs. The online school started basic courses in 2004 and grew to include higher-level courses as government funding expanded the role of the organization.
It is now one of six major providers for the state-wide program, offering accredited courses for K-12 students across the state. The online school offers full-time options to complete full grade levels, or part-time enrollment to take courses not offered in some traditional schools.
Director Laura Belnap, who is also a member of the Utah State Board of Education, said the pandemic had definitely fueled increased interest in online options and helped Utah Online hit an all-time high of 5,585 students in 2020.
A graph showing total Utah Online enrollment by year, using data from the annual UTREx report | Graphic by Ammon Teare, St. George News
“There was a total influx of parents and students who came to Utah Online,” said Belnap. “One reason for this is that we have been around for 15 years. Families who were already in our system didn’t miss a beat because of the pandemic, and the new people who came in – and there were many first-time users online – we could pick up and take care of them. “
Overall online public school enrollment increased about 57% from October 2019 to October 2020, although many counties across the state have developed virtual classes or entire online school programs in response to the pandemic.
As a result, Belnap said she anticipates an increase of around 20% if classes open for the fall semester of 2021 for the foreseeable future.
In fact, a year-to-year comparison of growth shows that the largest increase in total enrollments for Utah Online occurred between 2018 and 2019. This year the number of students practically doubled from 1,779 to 3,557.
“Part of that increase would be that we had several private schools joining our school,” said Belnap. “The growth was also due to the interest in the many facets of the school.”
Utah Online’s expansion reflects the evolution of the nationwide program, which made its biggest leap in the 2019-20 school year, a 39% increase in enrollments, followed by another year of significant, albeit smaller, growth of 12%.
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The 2021-22 school year could be more similar to its predecessor in terms of growth. One of the larger online charter schools, Utah Virtual Academy, is going to return to its pre-pandemic enrollment limit. Kanth said this could lead parents to bring their students back to their local schools or enroll more in established programs like Utah Online or Canyons Virtual High.
The online school aims to provide more accessible, flexible and needs-based education, said Belnap. Several districts across the state, including San Juan, Ogden, and Granite, rely on online schools to give unsuccessful students the opportunity to retake courses and get credits back.
For Utah Online, the fall semester courses open on August 9th. The first official day of the fall semester is August 12, in conjunction with the start date for traditional schools in the Washington County School District. For more information, see Utah Online School website.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.
Ammon Teare has always considered southern Utah his home away from home after spending the summers and vacations visiting his family in Cedar City and St. George. With a love for the wilderness and a passion for writing, he has dreamed of becoming a reporter since elementary school. After moving from Texas to New Mexico to Utah during his childhood, Ammon studied journalism at Utah State University, where he graduated in May 2020. In his free time, you can watch him Utah Jazz or play a board game with his wife, go hiking in the great outdoors or just relax in a place reading a fantasy novel.