The Coast News Group
Oceanside Unified School District's independent study program a hit with students and teachers. Courtesy photo
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Elementary program bridges school, home school students


OCEANSIDE — As the school year comes to a close, one program instituted by the Oceanside Unified School District has taken a new approach to home school and students with its independent study.

Housed at the Ditmar Campus, Principal Jessica Poumele and teacher Tiffany Cooper-Ortega have found success with a small population of students. The program was instituted to combat the loss of students to charter schools and is finishing its first year.

In short, it’s a bridge between school and home school.

The students range from transitional kindergarten through fifth grade, although this year students through eighth grade have participated. Twenty-one students participated and have reportedly blossomed with their schoolwork and social skills.

“We are meeting those families’ needs, flexible attendance, self-paced work and challenging students who need it,” Cooper-Ortega said. “It was kind of this perfect storm.”

She designed the program after some charter school models with two-day-per-week attendance with the other three days students are home schooled. Cooper-Ortega also keeps in constant contact with the students from home to ensure they are progressing.

In addition to the self-paced aspect, parents stay involved at home and with the curriculum, she added.

“It’s a co-teaching model,” she said. “They (parents) are handling the day-to-day … and I’m like the expert practitioner. If a child is not understanding, they are stuck on a couple things … I’m there.”

As for the students, it also provides a more calming atmosphere for those who suffer from anxiety in a full classroom setting.

With independent study, Cooper-Ortega said it’s a family atmosphere and also incorporates field trips. She said the closeness with her students and their families also allows her to stay connected with how the students are progressing in the classroom and at home.

Next year, though, is a growth opportunity for the independent study, Cooper-Ortega said. She said there is room for 40 students, and if it happens, it’s likely a second teacher would be hired.

However, there is a wait list and one challenge is the computer licensing for each student. Those licenses can run hundreds or thousands of dollars, so the program must find more funding to expand past the 40-student mark, Cooper-Ortega said.

“The students can access it at home,” she said of the computer program. “The parent has a teacher’s edition. It’s like having a curriculum online and physically based.”

As for the long term, Cooper-Ortega said her vision would consist of a school-like program where students are organized by grade, rather than combined into one program. As she is the only teacher, Cooper-Ortega must jump from one grade and subject to another on the fly.

“Each one of these students has an individual learning plan that she has tailored to them,” said Lisa Contreras, the district’s director of communications. “It’s a lot more intense for her to keep up with that and making sure they are all keeping up to where they need to go.”