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Quaker Digital Academy offers helpful alternative

December 8, 2012
Morning Journal News

EAST LIVERPOOL-Scott Dahl has been attending Quaker Digital Academy at its new downtown East Liverpool location since the start of the new school year, and already he and his mother have noticed a difference.

Dahl, 17, of East Liverpool, talks about advancing to the 11th grade soon, and a smile comes over his face. He starts talking about graduating from high school, and the smile gets even bigger.

"I can't wait to graduate," he said. "I can't wait."

Article Photos

Quaker Digital Academy tutor Jeff Edgell explains a math concept to student Holly McCartney on Friday. The online, public school opened an office at 108 E. Fifth St., East Liverpool, in August and has already grown to an enrollment of 75 students. (Photo by Stephen Huba)

Dahl is among a growing number of students signing up for classes at QDA's downtown East Liverpool office, which opened in August. QDA was founded in 2003 as a cyber charter school sponsored by New Philadelphia City Schools and has since opened satellite offices in Steubenville and East Liverpool.

In three months, mostly by word of mouth, QDA's East Liverpool office has grown in enrollment from 25 to 75 students, said Richard Varrati, school chief executive officer.

"Most of these are work-from-home cyber students, but they can access the academic and administrative support at the new East Liverpool office," said Varrati, formerly superintendent of New Philadelphia City Schools.

Dahl was attending East Liverpool High School but said he got tired of bullying from other students. He enrolled at QDA and attends five days a week, several hours a day.

Best of all, said his mother, Elizabeth Dahl, he's getting A's and B's.

"At the high school, the highest he ever got was a C," she said. "They kept passing him on, but he wasn't learning anything. Here, he actually comes home and tells me what he learned on the computer. I think it has made a huge difference."

Dahl is studying language arts, math, science and social studies. "I don't mind coming here. It's nice here," he said. "I like the computers."

Students who attend QDA receive free instruction from tutors or via the Internet and also are assigned an instructional supervisor who serves as the main point of contact between the student and the family. The school covers the cost of the curriculum and the Internet access.

Unlike other cyber charter schools, QDA has several curriculum providers, Varrati said. "We find a curriculum that fits the needs of the student academically. We'll assess the student and match up the curriculum to the student," he said.

QDA started working in Columbiana County three years ago as the academic component of the "Youth Build Columbiana County" program, operated with a federal grant by the Way Station, a faith-based, non-profit organization. "Youth Build" was a two-year work-study program to help males age 16-21 earn a high school diploma and learn construction skills.

"Most of these were high school dropouts who weren't going to end up doing anything else, so this was a better opportunity for them," said Casey Havens, coordinator of the QDA East Liverpool office.

Students in "Youth Build" alternated between a week of paid training and a week of classroom instruction provided by QDA. When the federal funding dried up in June, however, so did the program.

QDA decided to open the East Liverpool office so that the 25 former "Youth Build" students could continue their studies and get their diploma. "After they had been provided services for so long, we didn't want to drop them," Havens said.

Some of those students will complete their studies by Christmas, while others will be done in June 2013, Havens said.

"We didn't want to leave them out in the cold," Varrati said, "so we found a place in East Liverpool that we could rent and put a lab in to service those students."

A former social worker with a teaching certificate in math, Havens said she joined QDA to see the "Youth Build" students through to the end of their program. "I just decided to do that so I could stay working with the kids," she said.

QDA offers classes for children in kindergarten through 12th grade. For more information, call 330-932-0114.



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