Independent study gives students another route to success
by Kendall Septon | Patterson Irrigator
Feb 17, 2011 | 2953 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Patterson Joint Unified School District ninth-grader Josh Porras works on an assignment in class Wednesday, Feb. 16, at the Open Valley Independent Study Program computer lab at Creekside Middle School. The program gives students an alternative to the traditional classroom and greater flexibility to complete their schoolwork. --photo by Elias Funez/Patterson Irrigator
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Sophomore Nassdira Solorzano, 16, was a social butterfly scraping by with a C average last year. Tiffany Robinson, another 16-year-old sophomore, came close to failing a grade when she missed too many days of school because of family issues.

For both girls, an alternative approach to education in the form of the new Open Valley Independent Study Program was the key to a change for the better.

Formed at the start of this school year after a merger between Independent Studies and Open Valley Virtual Academy, the Patterson Joint Unified School District program offers 90 students in elementary through high school the opportunity to take their academic success into their own hands. The program is designed to help students who have health problems, who might need to work, who are parents, or who find that a regular classroom just doesn’t fit.

Unlike a typical school schedule and curriculum, the independent study program gives students the option to learn through virtual or traditional classes or a combination of methods to fit their learning style and accommodate the hours when they work best, That’s what makes the difference for many, said Michael Saunders, OVIS coordinator.

“It’s amazing how some students can improve with a little flexibility,” he said.

Students who choose the Open Valley option are required to report to the headquarters at Creekside Middle School each week. There, they check in with teachers for a one-on-one meeting, instead of taking classes with other students, and are given the next week’s worth of work to complete as they choose. Writing and math labs taught by teachers are open at designated times, and final tests take place in the campus classrooms.

Learning in that way isn’t the right fit for everyone, though, Saunders said.

“To succeed in the independent studies program, you really have to be an independent learner,” he said. “I’ve found it’s really hard to encourage students if they’re not willing to motivate themselves.”

For Solorzano, however, breaking away from the typical high school experience and the distractions of a busy classroom has allowed her to raise her grades to straight A’s.

“I do miss being social at school, but it’s nice being able to concentrate and knowing that I’m getting better grades,” Solorzano said. “I’m hoping this will help me when I start applying for college.”

Robinson also credited the flexible setup with letting her make significant headway on catching up with her classes within a couple of weeks.

“It’s a lot easier to work on my own without all the other things about school to worry about,” she said. “I would recommend the program for anybody.”

By expanding its school readiness and alternative education programs, school district officials said they hope to see significant improvements in high school graduation rates and attendance in the future.

A report on that data is expected to be ready in late spring, district officials said.

Contact Kendall Septon at 892-6187 or kendall@pattersonirrigator.com.

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