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Leave and learn: Some students spend hours off campus

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Center Grove High School senior Dani Patterson is taking seven classes, but she’s usually off campus each morning by 11 a.m.

Patterson is one of 114 Center Grove students who are taking online courses and don’t have to spend their entire day at school.

Once Patterson leaves school for the day she might spend a few hours at A Thousand Words Portraits, a photography studio in Greenwood, where she’s an intern and is learning to use programs such as Photoshop. Other days she has appointments or goes to see her family.

She also typically has two to three hours of homework each day for her two online classes. Patterson has turned everything in on time, but she also has to be sure to make time for schoolwork while she’s not at the high school.

Sometimes it’s easy to get distracted with her internship and family, she said.

“It’s hard to pay attention to the lessons while there’s so many other things going on,” she said.

Indiana law typically requires students are in class at least six hours each day for 180 days per year. Last year state lawmakers approved allowing high schools that receive A grades from the state to dismiss students early or have them come in later if they’re taking online, college or technical courses.

Schools that didn’t receive an A from the state can apply for a waiver if they can explain why dismissing students early is beneficial.

Center Grove wants students to learn how to manage their time away from school, as they’ll need to do in college, director of curriculum Wendy Kruger said.

Greenwood and Edinburgh also have the option of letting their students leave early, but not every local school district is convinced of the benefits of the practice.

Before Greenwood students will be allowed to spend less time at school, officials want to know exactly how the online, technical or college programs are preparing them for college or future careers, Assistant Superintendent Rick Ahlgrim said.

“We’re not afraid of (early dismissal). But we’re not aware of those off-campus, shorter-day learning experiences that are so compelling they would require us to reconsider,” Ahlgrim said.

Center Grove students must maintain a C average, or they will be required to start coming to class, Kruger said.

Heather Hart, Patterson’s online probability and statistics teacher, wasn’t sure how well her students would manage their time away from school, but she also knew that students needed to learn to do their work without her watching over them.

Students can stay on campus and work with Hart if they want to review a lesson or are having trouble with an assignment.

The school’s rule is that students can’t continue to leave school early if their online grade falls below a C at progress report time, but Hart checks her students’ grades after every online chapter is complete and will call them back to class if their grade drops below a C, she said.

This is the first year students have been able to take online courses at Center Grove, and knowing whether it was beneficial usually takes between three and five years of reviewing students’ grades, graduation rates and other factors.

At Greenwood, schools need to have that data in hand before they decide their students can spend part of their day away from the high school.

They don’t want to release students early only to find out years later that the courses or programs the students left early for didn’t prepare them for college or their careers, Ahlgrim said.

“We’ve been around long enough to see a lot of promises that don’t pan out. A lot of good ideas that simply don’t work when implemented the way they were imagined,” Ahlgrim said.

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