By Dawn Krebs
ST. LUCIE COUNTY - When the new school year begins in a few weeks, there will be a fresh crop of students cracking open textbooks.
What makes these students unique, however, is that they will be doing it from the comfort of their own homes.
The St. Lucie County School District has created its own online school option, Mosaic Digital Academy.
"We think about virtual schools in a different way," said Jeanne Ziemba, coordinator of the new academy. "We are providing more of a personal touch."
The district is using local teachers for the academy, which encompasses kindergarten through 12th grade.
"Our teachers are local and have teaching positions here, so they know the area and the curriculum," Ms. Ziemba said. "This will give the students a well-rounded, quality experience."
In addition, having the teachers nearby will give the students a chance to meet in person, if needed. A full-time guidance counselor is also available to students.
"The teachers will provide face-to-face tutoring when necessary," she said. "The students will also be able to participate locally in field trips and other social interactions."
Currently, about 100 students are signed up for the full-time online experience through the school district's virtual academy. Through a partnership with neighboring counties, students are not only from St. Lucie County, but also Martin and Okeechobee counties.
"It was very important that the eligible students from kindergarten through fifth grade were eligible with no restrictions," Ms. Ziemba said. "A student who was in grades six through 12 would have had to complete a full year of public school the previous year."
The reason for the newest addition to the school district came about when the state's board of education recently passed legislation requiring high-school students to take at least one high-school class in an online setting.
Currently, the school is for full-time students only. Students who need only a few classes on a part-time basis will use the state's Florida Virtual School.
One of the important things about the program is that it's free.
"Parents don't have to go out and find the curriculum," she said. "The program maps the lessons out for them, and allows them to stay on the same schedule as the brick-and-mortar schools, while giving the students the flexibility of individualized pacing."
Ms. Ziemba also stressed the importance of parent participation.
"There are successful online learners, and they need to be independent learners with effective communication skills," she said.
While the first semester of school has been filled, second semester sign-ups will take place from Oct. 20 through Dec. 1.
For more information, call (772) 429-5504 or go online to http://schools.stlucie.k12.fl.us/mda.