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New Minnesota school blends online learning with in-class teachers

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A new kind of school set to open in the south suburbs this fall is part of a relatively small movement toward schools that blend online learning with live in-school teachers.

The approach offers students personalized web-based curriculum with the teacher support many of them need, the concept's supporters say.

"Learning is really a social experience and we want to take what that online learning opportunity has, but really reinforce it and support it with strong instruction from a classroom teacher," Greg Gentle, who will be principal of Flex Academy in Richfield this fall, told KSTP.

Supporters of web-based education say students turn to online schools for a variety of reasons – sometimes it's due to mental health issues or bullying, other times it's because they are artists or athletes who need a flexible schedule, KSTP reports.

The U.S. Department of Education says over 53 percent of public school districts had some numbers of high school students enrolled in distance education, or online courses, in the 2009-10 school year. KSTP says more than 14,000 students in Minnesota attend schools online.

Flex Academy officials believe that students who go to school online miss out on a key part of their education – interacting with teachers and other students.

That's what led to Flex's blended-learning curriculum. At the school, students will have their own work space and customized learning plan designed by K12, the nation's largest provider of online education for students in kindergarten to 12th grade, which allows students to progress at their own pace through lessons, while getting support from teachers, according to a press release.

This idea is somewhat new in education but has proved successful for certain students, supporters say. The new Richfield school is modeled on the Flex Academy in San Francisco, which had over 97 percent of its graduates go on to attend college or other post-secondary institutions, Flex Academy's website says. The school also had the largest gain on California state exams of any San Francisco public school in 2013, a press release notes.

"We're hoping to enroll students that are really interested in leveraging the best of what online learning and technology has to offer, with conjunction with a face-to-face teacher every day," Gentle told KSTP.

Flex Academy, which is a full-time, tuition-free public charter school, has the capacity for 300 south-metro students in grades 6-12, and hopes to reach its capacity within the first few years, the Sun Current reports. The school plans to have 20-25 staff members helping lead the discussions, the paper says.

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