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MT. JUDEA — The small rural consolidated Deer/Mt. Judea School District is big in the area of digital learning. So big in fact, officials believe the school district could have more digital students in the future than on-campus students. Since beginning to offer it a few years ago, the school district's digital learning program currently services 120 students from 65 families.

Suffering from declining enrollment, the school district wants to draw from a pool of potential students who for the most part are being home schooled. Superintendent Dr. Andrew Curry rationalized that the school district could offer home school families an enhanced learning experience, and not replace traditional methods altogether, by granting these students access to the school district's advanced technologies. Also, the students can participate in all academic and extra-curricular programs of the school district and participate in quarterly educational field trips.

As students of the school district, they have equal access to the school district's dyslexia interventionists and can undergo diagnostic testing as needed.

The digital learning program offers a growing list of services. Each student is provided a Chromebook and is enrolled in a quality online learning program. A new curriculum will be offered this year. Each student is supplied with the materials needed to learn. The school district will reimburse families of up to $50 a month (August-May) for broadband internet access with receipts.

The students and their parents have access to professional development trainings hosted by the district as well as specific professional development for parents. They are also invited to participate in ACT prep classes.

In addition, the school district will pay for two courses per semester for juniors and seniors to attend North Arkansas College, Arkansas Tech or other approved online courses.

The program is a partnership with parents, however. It is required that parents or guardians be the lead educator for the student(s). They must provide necessary forms for enrollment. They must report mid-term and nine-week grades to the digital learning director. Students must be in attendance for Aspire testing required for specific grades and times of the year including the ACT test in March for 11th graders.

Lindsey Graham — lindsey.graham@deer.k12.ar.us. — is the director and made a report to the board of education at its Aug. 12 meeting.

Graham noted there will be a new learning program for curriculum introduced this year. It was presented to about 40 families during an orientation meeting held recently. Since that introduction, there has been good feedback received about it and students are already beginning to go to work even though school has not officially started.

Graham said she and Curry have scheduled a meeting with an influencer with home school families in Northwest Arkansas. The question they want to ask is if the school district can tap into that pool of students. The district is at a pivotal point, she said. "We have the option of going into Northwest Arkansas and staying on the cutting edge of this free new program and continuing to be the best in the state where it stands now."

She asked the board if it was interested in proceeding. "This could double, triple or quadruple our program," Graham said. "It could explode."

Graham comes from a home-schooling background and is a member of a local consortium of home school families. That background has helped her recruit students to the school district's digital learning program and serve as the support person for them. The school district has gradually added personnel under Graham.

Should the program expand, more resources will be needed, Graham warned the board. "Time, energy and more money will pay off tremendously in that we could potentially have 500 students in our digital learning program."

The other option is to keep the program where it is. The program has maxed out in this area, she said. In order to grow, more staff is needed, specifically a teacher for elementary K-4 and a middle school teacher. She said she would take an extra teacher this year if enrollment is down and a teacher is available.

Curry told board members that multiple school districts have contacted him about the digital learning program. They have tried to get a similar program off the ground, but without much success, he said. He credited Graham for the accomplishments the school district has had in this area.

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