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Dillingham's Correspondence School Offers Alternative to Traditional Homeschooling

There are over 30 correspondence schools in the state of Alaska.  These programs enable parents to be directly involved in their child’s education. However, there are quite a few misconceptions concerning the correspondence school lifestyle.

Correspondence school is essentially home schooling.  However, the parents work with school districts for resources and some specialty courses as well as guidance.

The Dillingham Correspondence School has a three part belief system; parental autonomy in educational choices, the most important teacher for a child is their parents and with professional support, parents make the best educational choices for their children.   There is a list of approved curriculum that parents can choose from and work with teachers in the district to personalize it for each child.

Bill Rodawalt runs the Dillingham In-District Correspondence School.  He says unlike some state-wide programs, Dillingham’s is specific to the district area. 

“Basically it’s a service that we provide to people that want to do homeschooling. It allows us to sit down with parents and review the curriculum that they’re proposing to do with their students and make sure that it’s meeting the Alaska state standards for education. Especially when the kids start getting into high school, it’s good for me to go over all of the requirements for graduation and those sorts of things so that we’re keeping them on track for graduation.”

Rodawalt says the parents make an individual learning plan for each student after which, he or the other Correspondence teacher looks at the plan to make sure they are on the right track.  He says the district provides funding for curriculum and transcription services.

However, students in this program aren’t strictly learning at home.

“The kids have to take at least four classes through the correspondence program, but then they are free to avail themselves of classes within the district as well. Last year we had a number of kids that sort of transitioned from correspondence to the high school. They would be taking four classes or more at the home school but then come in for English or some kids came in for shop or those things. The other thing the correspondence school provides for parents and students is the ability to participate in activities, especially sports.”

Nicole Ito’s daughter was in the Correspondence school program.  She says her daughter had to abide by the same requirements as those attending a full day of public school—including gym.

“When she got older she had to log I believe it was 90 hours a semester, same amount of time that regular high school kids would have in the gym doing physical activities. So she got to choose; if she wanted to jog, if she wanted to cross country ski, if she wanted to do an aerobics program. So it was fun for her to kind of do what she liked to do and spend her time either outdoors or indoors doing it.”

Ito says correspondence school isn’t for everyone.  The students that go into the program, must be academically motivated and high achieving, like her daughter who now studying at University of Alaska Fairbanks. 

Ito and her husband chose correspondence school because it allowed their daughter to learn at her own rate.  She says moving from public school to homeschooling was not an overnight mission—it was a process.

“There was a transition period but she did like it. She really liked being able to explore topics in depth that she really liked. I guess when she did get older we did really encourage those strengths and interests of hers. And she took classes through BYU and the college.”

She says her husband works full time so she was the one who did the majority of the teaching.  However, she did split the responsibility.

“He also helped us, especially with things that I didn’t like or I felt that he was much better at. He was definitely a big help. But the majority of her homeschooling was done by me because I filled out the paper work and kept things on track. But definitely we discussed what curriculum we were going to use, what classes she needed to take and we kept up on what requirements she needed for graduation. Those are all things that we discussed together.”

Ito says unlike traditional homeschooling, Correspondence school allowed her to teach her child while still supporting the school and the community.

Ito’s daughter was one of two valedictorians that graduated from Dillingham School District in May of this year.  The Alaska Department of Education recently released its 2013-2014 Alaska School Performance Index.  The Dillingham Correspondence School received five stars out of five.