Online school gives student ‘Insight’

Mitchell Vandeman goes to school online with his laptop and earphones, provided by Insight Schools. - Courtesy photo
Mitchell Vandeman goes to school online with his laptop and earphones, provided by Insight Schools.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

When you meet Mitchell Vandeman, you meet a shy but outspoken teenage boy with plans of attending Olympic College (OC) in the fall as part of the Running Start program.

But what sets apart is the fact he attends school completely online.

Vandeman’s mom, Victoria, said he has Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) which causes significant difficulties in social interaction, but differs from other ASDs in that linguistic and cognitive skills are not affected as much as physical skills. This makes it difficult for him to adapt to stressful situations, like those you might find in a crowded high school.

“To put him in a regular high school just wasn’t really an option,” Victoria said. “The organization of it, so many people, the distractions, so we were really racking our brains as to what to do.”

That is when she started seeing advertising for Insight Schools, a system of “accredited, diploma-granting, tuition-free online high schools.”

According to the Web site, Insight Schools “offer a highly personalized education designed to accommodate individual learning styles, lifestyles and goals, while preparing students for the 21st-century workplace.”

That was exactly what Victoria was searching for.

“We saw it on TV,” she said. “It was just starting to gain recognition. Everything just fell into place.”

Vandeman said the classes are basically the same as in a traditional school.

“On the grades, it is just like a regular school,” he said.

“It is exactly the same thing as a brick and mortar school,” Victoria added. “You get books, report cards, everything is exactly the same. You just go to class online.”

The schools also have sites where students can go to “live chat” with a teacher for extra help and many classes require students to interact with one another as part of their grade.

Since beginning classes last fall online, Victoria said Vandeman has had a lot of success he probably would not have seen in a traditional school setting.

“He was Science Student of the Month in December of 2008,” she said. “He has also been on the honor roll. It is a good boost for his self-esteem.”

The Insight Schools also offer ways for students to meet one another and interact, like their prom which is later this month, but scheduling conflicts have prevented Vandeman from attending many of those functions, and missing that interaction is the hardest part for him.

“I do miss my old school,” he said. “But I am trying to make this work still. I still have a few friends from my old school and that helps.”

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