August 30, 2004
Mesa student JoAnn Gray hated the rigid bell schedule at Dobson High School.
Her absences piled up, and soon she was missing more than half her classes. When she became pregnant in 2003, a diploma seemed unlikely.
Then Gray discovered Mesa Unified School District’s Distance Learning Program, which allows her to care for her baby and take classes at home on her terms.
"I love school now," said Gray, now on schedule to receive a scholastic diploma next spring.
Gray is among hundreds of East Valley students who have made similar decisions in recent years to attend school online.
The Mesa district launched its distance learning program in 1999 with about 125 students, and by 2003, enrollment had grown to more than 500.
Virtual charter schools in the East Valley report similar growth.
Brad Lester, an administrator at Primavera — Online charter high school in Chandler, has watched enrollment at his school explode from 70 in 2003 to more than 400 this semester.
He said the diversity of situations that draw students to his school has surprised him.
One Primavera student is a gifted Scottsdale pianist who just released her second CD at age 14. Her pursuit of a music career requires frequent travel, and she takes classes online for the flexible schedule. Another Primavera student is a homebound child in Page who takes classes online for medical reasons.
Chandler parent Roberta Hamilton said medical reasons also led her to choose distance learning for her 14-yearold son, Mitchell. She said she chose Mesa Unified’s online program because she wanted a diploma for her son from an established school district with a proven curriculum.
Other online students are dropouts looking for a second chance or students at the other extreme trying to earn a diploma early.
The Mesa district also expanded its program this semester to include elementary school students as young as kindergarten age. Already, about 130 elementary students have signed up, including some in remote locations such as Lake Havasu City.
Kathy Tolar, who coordinates the elementary school program at the new Eagleridge Enrichment campus near Dobson High School, said many participants are home-schooled children with parents looking for curriculum assistance.
She said many of these students take enrichment classes one day a week at Eagleridge and then take the rest of their classes online with help at home from a parent.
"All of our elementary online programs are designed to assist the parent — but not cut the parent out of the picture as the primary educator," Tolar said.
Virtual school programs
Mesa Unified School District Distance Learning Program, (480) 472-7240
Tempe Union Virtual High School, (480) 839-0292 Charter schools
Humanities and Sciences Institute in Tempe, (480) 317-5900
Pinnacle Virtual High School in Tempe, (480) 755-8222
Primavera — Online in Chandler, (480) 456-6678
Sequoia Choice School’s Arizona Distance Learning School in Mesa, (480) 655-7005