FARMINGTON - Elisabeth Rawley no longer has to struggle in school trying to concentrate on her assignments in a room with 30 other students.
Now the Bountiful sixth-grader is enrolled in Davis School District's online learning program.
Elisabeth says the best part of the program is getting to play with her dogs or dance around the room if she needs a break from schoolwork.
"I don't miss school because I still hang out with my friends. And now I don't feel rushed to get to school, or stressed because it was so hard for me to focus," said Rawley, who began the online program a month ago.
Her mom, Lisa Rawley, says her schoolwork has improved dramatically.
"In the classrom setting, Elisabeth found it hard to learn in a large class, which meant she was falling behind" said Lisa Rawley. "With the online program, the best of her came out because now she can sit and focus in a quiet environment."
New opportunities for education have been set in motion as hundreds of students are now delving into the world of online learning with Davis School District's Davis Connect for elementary students and Utah Students Connect for secondary students.
For the last three years, the district has been offering the online program for students who may be struggling with a long illness, have severe allergies, if the family is away for a long period of time, or other circumstances that prevent students from attending school.
"Our goal is to provide students with a high-quality education so they are ready for the next step when they can go back to school," said Davis School District Assistant Curriculum Director Belinda Kuck.
Students read their curriculum online, web chat with their teacher, watch a virtual chalkboard as the teacher instructs, and communicate with their fellow students through discussion boards.
Lisa Rawley says the program allows her daughter to go at her own pace and can work on tasks that may be a struggle.
"That's the goal of this program for my daughter -- or her to learn the material and understand the concepts, even redoing assignments if needed, and I can keep track of what she is doing," she said.
The elementary online program even offers field trips for students to experience things hands-on and socialize with other students in the program. Recently, students learned how to do P.E. games at home, such as juggling, playing flag football, and tossing balls to one another.
As the first district in the state to begin an online program, the Davis School District is now heading up a consortium with several districts in the state. The program has seen dramatic growth, having had around 200 students when it first started three years ago. The program, including both elementary and secondary online classes, now has almost 700 students, which Kuck attributes to the distinct features of the online program.
"We keep pushing the boundaries and limits, and though we still have students who fail, there is a much greater success for our students because we have a definite beginning and end of the term, with restrictions and guidelines, and with a teacher mentoring and monitoring the students along the way," said Kuck.
Secondary students are allowed to take a total of three classes online, with many doing so in the summer to get general classes out of the way to make room for personal interest classes during the school year, such as music, art or theater.
Davis Curriculum Development Supervisor Patty Norman says their program is unique.
"There are so many online programs out there that are failing because of the lack of a teacher or another person on the other end," said Norman. "There is something about that live piece that goes along with the online course that helps students."
The program has about $300,000 to work with each year. Davis Connect has one teacher for the 50 online elementary students, and the Utah Student Connect program has five teachers from Davis School District providing classes for the consortium, with additional teachers from other districts.
The curriculum for the online courses are developed by the course teachers. Kuck admits the program is a continual work in progress, especially as they align their courses with Utah's Common Core.
She would like to see the program receive enough funding down the road to allow students attending a brick and mortar school to augment their learning with some of the online courses. Kuck also envisions secondary students taking online courses so they can graduate from high school sooner, but it takes funding they currently don't have, so for the time being, it's a dream for the future.
"We are still in a new adventure as we continue changing and growing," said Kuck.