Many high school students have used online options to take a few classes in addition to traditional public schooling, freeing up their schedules for student government, athletics or advanced courses, Hales said.
Others have opted for an exclusively online experience, some even using their Internet connection to study with Utah schools while touring overseas or joining their parents leading missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Taking a few classes online can also be an effective option for remediation, allowing students with failed or incomplete credits to finish requirements for the high school diploma, an answer for students who have been faced with a sick family member, a serious injury, struggles in the classroom or any number of challenges, Hales said.
"These kids need our help, they need the additional resources," Hales said.
Some, like Rachel Halliburton, simply prefer online learning to a traditional classroom. Linda Harless, principal of Utah Connections Academy, called online schooling a natural extension for students who have grown up using social media to connect and the Internet to access information.
"They like the flexibility of being able to structure their school day, rather than having the strict 8-to-3 kind of schedule," Harless said. "Or we have kids that like technology, so this is (right for) them. If you think about this generation, they're so into technology, it's like they're born with it."
As students "take charge" of their own learning, meeting regularly with school officials to set personal goals and measure their progress, they take ownership of their education and learn responsibility, Harless said.
Angelos said enrolling with UCA finalized her decision to enlist in the military — it was practically simultaneous, she said. Learning to set goals, manage time and take personal responsibility went hand-in-hand with online learning as well as military training, she said.
"I can do things at my own pace," Angelos said, grateful she was able to plan schooling around her military training schedule. "I worked so long for this and it's finally happening. It feels really nice."
Angelos will enter basic training this fall, a fact that had her UCA teachers beaming on graduation day.
Harless has been with Utah Connections Academy since the beginning, and as she prepares for her third year as principal, she has seen enrollment climb from an initial 250 students to an estimated 750 enrolled for next fall.
"More and more students realize this is an education option for them," Harless said. "A lot of students just love and thrive in the online environment. They like to be in charge of how their day works for them, and we can offer that."
For information on online offerings, see www.connectionsacademy.com/home.aspx.
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