PALO offers new program to excel

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Cyber schools, with their virtual educational techniques, continue to make strides in the educational process, but one Pittsburgh based Charter School is putting together programs to help students excel even more.

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PA Learners Online Regional Charter School, which is operated by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit—a nonprofit branch of the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the largest of the 29 intermediate units created by the Pennsylvania State General Assembly—will begin accepting students in the Spring of 2012 for their Science Technology Research Engineer Arts and Mathematics (STREAM) Academy. The career based program will not only allow students to attend school online, but will set them up with on-location instruction in the specific career fields they are interested in.

“This is a partnership with businesses and goes beyond a regular field trip, this will last for weeks at a time,” said Sarah McCluan, communication services supervisor for AIU in Pittsburgh. This program will offer onsite instruction and “show students that what they are learning can be applied to a certain profession and real life.”

PALO has an enrollment of 394 students, with approximately 20 percent of them African-American, and is the only cyber charter school with a board comprised of superintendents from school districts in Allegheny County.

“We offer a very solid structure. Our board members are superintendents from Allegheny County school districts and they want to make sure students are getting a quality education,” said McCluan. Like other cyber schools and traditional schools, PALO has a curriculum aligned with the state’s standards.

Along with implementing the STREAM Academy, AIU is also working with school districts in the county to help them start their own Cyber Charter Schools, which would help school funding remain in the districts and allow students to graduate from their local schools, all while still giving students and parents more options when it comes to their child’s education.

“Waterfront Learning, is a hybrid between cyber charter schools and school districts. We help school districts set up their own cyber charter school because when students leave a district and do online schooling, they lose thousands of dollars in funds. This way the school district will still keep the money and students will get the option of a flexible education,” McCluan said.

The school district will either be able to use PALO’s teachers, which have been deemed qualified by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, along with their curriculum, or part of PALO’s curriculum and the district’s own teachers.

“This is just another option for parents and students. And it’s a brave new world because school districts are now in competition for students and it wasn’t like that before.” One participating school district is Gateway in Monroeville.

McCluan said that her school is unique not only because it is operated by the AIU, but because of what they have to offer students. “Our curriculum is more robust and we have made it a point to grow slowly to make sure that the info structure is in place.”

(For information on PA Learners Online or the STREAM Academy, visit http://www.palearnersonline.com.)

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