Cyber school builds new initiative

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Traditional schools have been responding to the cyber school challenge by becoming more and more digital, offering their students online classes and sometimes teaching via the Web.

Now PA Cyber Charter School, which helped create that challenge, is edging into the "bricks and mortar" world by offering hands-on learning to children in its 4-year-old and 5-year-old kindergarten programs.

"They're going from bricks to clicks; we're going from clicks to bricks," PA Cyber director Andrew Oberg said.

Called Building Blocks, the program will start the 2010-11 academic year in the former Mount Gallitzin Academy in Baden. Parents of PA Cyber children will be able to select from a menu of daily activities, choosing any or all, while still having all the regular online activities for their children at home.

Activities will be offered in time blocks from 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and will include some that are academic in orientation as well as lunch and playtime in the gymnasium and on the school's playground. Parents can bring their children for the day or for specific programs.

"From what we're hearing from our families, this is something they want," PA Cyber elementary curriculum coordinator Lauren Bensink said.

Mr. Oberg said it's an idea that has been raised repeatedly over the past several years, and one that has been in active planning for most of the past year.

"I think it's a natural evolution in how we want to offer learning opportunities for our children."

The Building Blocks Learning Center will be staffed by certified teachers and will draw on teachers from PA Cyber for music, art and languages for special programs. They are planning for an enrollment of about 100.

Mr. Oberg said if the center is a success, PA Cyber would like to open in other locations around the state with a goal of having one within reasonable driving distance of every student.

He also said there have been discussions of expanding the concept into higher grades with hands-on labs, art, music and other learning experiences that are still challenging in an online system.

The Mount Gallitzin site is the same one where the National Network of Digital Schools -- a spinoff from PA Cyber -- was planning to launch the arts-based Baden Academy Charter School.

The Network's Stephen Catanzarite said that effort is still being pursued, though it will not launch in fall as originally planned. Ambridge Area school board rejected the school's charter application; the Network is reworking it and planning to resubmit it in September.

"We're working line by line through the application, recrafting and clarifying what it is that we intend to do," Mr. Catanzarite said. "We're taking the long view with it; we don't care when we get it done, we just want to get it right when we do."


Brian David: bdavid@post-gazette.com or 412-722-0086.


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