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Crosslake online high school opens to full house

Three weeks ago, Crosslake Community School opened its doors not only to elementary and middle school students, but to high school students as well. However, there is a caveat to this high school: Its entire curriculum is online. Director Todd Ly...

Clockwise from left: Abby Kaase, Joe Hendrickson, Sam Hendrickson and Veronica Hulke conduct their online studies at Crosslake Community School on Wednesday, Sept. 10.Photo By Dan Determan
Clockwise from left: Abby Kaase, Joe Hendrickson, Sam Hendrickson and Veronica Hulke conduct their online studies at Crosslake Community School on Wednesday, Sept. 10.Photo By Dan Determan

Three weeks ago, Crosslake Community School opened its doors not only to elementary and middle school students, but to high school students as well.

However, there is a caveat to this high school: Its entire curriculum is online.

Director Todd Lyscio is in his second year with the school, but the school board was looking for ways to expand a few years before his hiring.

"(They) were looking for a way to grow the school beyond the kindergarten through eighth grade model that had been in place," Lyscio said. "They had a desire for their kids to stay in a small setting. To do that at a high school level requires the hiring of a lot of staff. ... They began to explore to opportunity to do online programming."

Roughly one month ago, the school announced the hiring of Stacy Bender as dean of students. Bender has worked for three online schools in the past and oversees the program as a whole, primarily off-site, and troubleshoots any problems with the curriculum.

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"Oftentimes, in the virtual world, there are issues that arise for one reason or another that we probably wouldn't be able to solve without her," Lyscio said. "Because of her background, the answers come about much faster. A lot of time there is a solution before most people know there is a problem."

Going into the school year, Lyscio and the school board were hoping for six to eight high school students to take part in the new school. Instead, the high school is at capacity with 19 students, and is currently in "waiting list mode."

All of the high school students share a classroom, but each has a different set of coursework. A licensed teacher labelled the "learning coach" is present in the classroom for the students, but students are welcome to do their work from home at their leisure if they like or if their schedule demands it.

"We have several students with outside interests, and this allows them to balance those interests with school," Bender said. "Some days, they may not come to the physical location because they may be at hockey practice from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., so finishing their day at home may be the better choice."

Students are given weekly homework with suggested due dates to keep them on pace, but everything is ultimately due at the end of the semester. While students do not necessarily have to be present in the class, the homework they turn in is used to decide a student's "attendance." Individual progress can be checked by the dean of students, learning coach and the student's parents.

While the only time students are required to be in the classroom is for standardized testing, administrators hope to see students at least a few times a week.

"This is not an alternate school," Lyscio said. "It is an alternate form of delivery, but is not to be mistaken with a, 'You couldn't cut it in this school, so why don't you go to this school' thing. What we are finding is that the content is challenging and if you are left to your own devices, that takes a pretty mature kid."

For the time being, most extracurricular activities the students partake in are individual-based, but the administration is working to change that, and has submitted an application with the Minnesota State High School League to become a member school.

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"That is the first step to being able to offer more league-sponsored activities," Lyscio said. "Whether it is debate or speech or football - which may or may not happen - it opens the pathway for us to partner with other school districts at the varsity level."

According to the director and dean of students, one advantage to the online education setting is that its flexible schedule is similar to that of many present-day careers, where flexibility is an important skill.

"Sometimes with my job, I'm on the computer at 7 a.m. on a Sunday, or responding to emails at 10:30 p.m. on a Thursday," Lyscio said. "My work isn't confined to 7:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., and what we are seeing with our kids is the same thing. That is the dynamic of what we are trying to do."

Ultimately, the school, according to its administration, teaches its students perhaps the most important life skill: personal accountability.

"We often delay adulthood for students who really, at age 15 or 16, can take a little more control of their education," Bender said. "Instead of it being up to the teachers, students get to set their day, which is kind of what we expect out of adults."

Related Topics: CROSSLAKE
Dan Determan has been a reporter for the Echo Journal since 2014, primarily covering sports at Pequot Lakes and Pine River-Backus
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