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Online high school has helped Hastings student improve

Mikayla Zeien is finishing her first year of online high school and says it's a perfect fit for her.

As an eighth-grader at Hastings Middle School, Mikayla Zeien was not looking forward to high school. She had been picked on by her classmates enough to disrupt her education, and the prospect of continuing into high school with the same kids was not an appealing one.

So she started doing some research on online high schools. A friend of her sister's recommended one called Insight School of Minnesota.

"It seemed like a perfect fit," Mikayla said.

She's not the only one who thinks so. Attendance at online high schools is growing in Minnesota. According to "Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning," Minnesota enrollment in online high schools increased by 47 percent in the 2009-2010 school year, with a total of 86,495 students signing into virtual classrooms.

Mikayla wanted to start her online high school right at the beginning of the year, but hadn't started her research early enough, she explained. So she spent the first few days of her freshman year at Hastings High School and then switched over to Insight around the middle of September.

Now that she's just about finished her first year, Mikayla can easily say it was a good decision.

"I actually really enjoy it," she said.

The format allows her to work at her own pace and customize her education by adding more specialized classes such as criminology and allowing her more time to focus on areas of her education that she's more interested in.

"It's more me," she said.

Instead of moving from classroom to classroom all day, Mikayla attends her classes on a laptop computer.

"It's like a giant power point," she said.

Teachers have tablets they can write on that display on the students' screens. There are also options for teachers and students to interact over webcams or microphones or simply through an instant messaging system built into the classrooms. Teachers also have office hours after class so students can get personalized one-on-one help with any subject they need.

The personal attention has been a huge benefit in the mind of Mikayla's mom, Deanne Zeien. In middle school, Mikayla had struggled in her math courses, Deanne said. At Insight, her teachers were able to take the time to work with her until she understands the concepts.

"I can get all the help I need," Mikayla said.

The perks of online high school are showing in her grades. While in previous years Mikayla would make the B-honor roll or none at all, this semester she's on the A-honor roll, and her lowest grade was a B. She's also ranked fifth out of 48 students in her grade.

While overall, the format is just what Mikayla needed, she admitted she does miss the social aspect of attending public school.

"I miss that severely," she said.

Still, her school provides a number of social activities for its students, such as a trip to the science museum, bowling, skiing and arcade outings, and even prom - one that ninth- and tenth-graders can attend as well as the upperclassmen.

Deanne is seeing her daughter learn how to be more accountable to herself.

"The biggest thing I've found she's learned is responsibility," Deanna said of her daughter.

Mikayla put together her own schedule to allow her time to take care of all her work - often working a day or two ahead of time. When it comes time to sign into her classes or do her homework, Deanna doesn't have to tell her.

"She puts her headphones on and just kind of blocks everything else out," Deanna said.

The school day itself keeps Mikayla focused on her education through the full day, as opposed to taking several four-minute breaks between classes where students can step away from learning, Deanna said.

There's access for parents as well, so they can check their child's assignments and grades.

"I think this holds the kids more accountable," Deanna said.

All that, combined with the fact that there's no one to pick on Mikayla anymore has convinced Deanna that attending high school online was the right decision.

"It's been really good for her," Deanna said.

Another benefit for Mikayla is that she gets to be in the house to help out her mom.

"It's as perfect as it can be for me," she said.