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iQ Academy adds new dimension to teaching

Published 11:02am Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Sue Rinke starts her day like any other busy teacher in the district. But while other teachers leave their houses for one of the brick-and-mortar schools in town, Rinke’s classroom is in a small office just off her kitchen.

Rinke is a teacher at the iQ Academy, the online option offered by the Fergus Falls School District to K-12 students in the area and across the state. While she might not be greeted by a room full of students, the feeling she gets when logging on to her virtual classroom is often very similar.

“I feel my job is to connect with kids and hopefully teach them to be responsible and to be thinkers. You’d be surprised how well you can do that without actually seeing kids face to face,” Rinke said. “Despite the fact that I don’t see these kids, we do have an honest student to teacher relationship.”

All online students and teachers are part of the Fergus Falls School District. They are often residents of the area, but can come from across the state. They have clubs and organizations, and can even participate on sports teams, though many participate in the districts where they live. At graduation, they even have the option to walk at the Fergus Falls ceremony.

But most importantly, they are serious students.

“The curriculum is as robust as any high school; students aren’t learning any less or anything different, they are just going at it more on their own,” said Derek Abrahams, first year principal at the school. “We’re not an alternative school, we’re a regular public school. We just deliver it differently.”

Most students, for a number of reasons, have not been successful in traditional classrooms and find the option more conducive to their learning. There are, of course, students who join thinking online might be easier, but they find out right away what it takes to be successful.

“The type of student that succeeds online are self motivated because they don’t have that constant reminder to get working,” Abrahams said. “It’s a very good option for some students.”

Teachers at the academy start the week with an hour outline over several topics and the rest is learned through homework and independent study. Each day, teachers answer questions over phone and email. While time can be limited, Abrahams said the self direction students learn is becoming valuable in the changing world.

“More jobs and colleges are going online; it’s only natural for high schools to come along too,” Abrahams said. “We’re teaching them to work independently, and that’s something they’ll need to know later in life.”

The district has more than 500 online students, and while that number usually drops at the beginning of the year, it is expected to keep growing. Across the state, there are now more than 3,000 students going to high school in some capacity online. With the demand, Abrahams said he believes the school will continue to receive support from the district.

For Rinke, that means a continued outreach to students with a need that might have been overlooked in the past.

“Just realizing that there’s a population of kids that this can work for, I feel like I am serving a population that would have trouble otherwise.”

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