The pioneers who initially came to Oregon did so by first looking at the world differently, thinking outside the box, and beyond the horizon. Today, that mindset of innovation and pushing boundaries lives on in the state’s education trailblazer, Frontier Charter Academy (FCA)—a tuition-free, online non-profit public charter school that’s providing students an innovative way to learn.
FCA is a collective effort between parents, community members, and educators dedicated to offering high-quality, substantial, and authentic learning experiences using the latest technology and tools. Highly-qualified, Oregon-licensed teachers lead interactive and collaborative lessons that impart real-world skills through projects and assignments, which can be completed wherever there is a reliable internet connection.
The curriculum departs from the canned curriculum approach that relies heavily on lower-order thinking skills, such as multiple choice and information recall, instead pushing students to utilize higher-order thinking skills in a variety of academic situations. The classes still meet state standards, but because FCA teachers build the courses themselves, they intimately understand the curriculum and can adjust it to meet the needs of both struggling and underchallenged students. Upon enrollment, each new student receives a Chromebook, as well as access to Google Apps for Education and the Canvas learning platform to strengthen their 21st century skills. They will emerge from FCA with abilities to be competitive in an increasingly technology-driven economy as future problem solvers of real-world challenges.
FCA opened its doors in 2017 to grades 5-9 and expanded to K-11 this fall, with full K-12 coverage coming next year. Skyla King-Christison currently has three of her children enrolled with FCA, ages 15, 13, and 12. “I was a public school teacher when my kids arrived on the planet, and as much as I was working to make a classroom experience for my students that I would want for my own kids, there were limitations to what I could do both because of the structure of the school and because of red tape and policies,” she says.
King-Christison knows first-hand the value of her children learning how to manage their time without bells, making meaningful connections with people remotely, and driving their knowledge through personal inquiry. “Rather than being mailed a stack of workbooks and reporting their busy work progress to a voiceless website, my kids log in at specific times and have live classes and face time with teachers that they know and love,” she says. “The teachers don't work from textbooks, but rather look at the state standards and design their own, real-world relevant, often interdisciplinary lessons that guide the students towards a more meaningful understanding of the concepts.”
Obviously home becomes the most common classroom for FCA students, but an element of adaptability comes into play—another important life lesson. “FCA allows us whatever degree of flexibility we need. All live classes are recorded, so if they have to miss a class for some reason, all the information is there at their leisure,” King-Christison explains. “My kids hate to miss a live class, so they don't allow me to, say, plan a family hike and trust that they'll watch the videos later.” When her daughter Hannah became ill, FCA was crucial in keeping her education on track. “We often note that we're unsure she would have been able to pass her sophomore year if she'd been in a regular brick and mortar school during her health trials because of the volume of classes she would have missed.”
Thanks to monthly Frontier Days, where students are invited to socialize with their peers and instructors, the in-person interaction aspect of school is maintained. “It's nice to have that chance to chat with other FCA parents and hear how things are working for them and share ideas,” King-Christison says. “It's also nice to see the teachers and hear how things are going on their end. The kids talk about their teachers nonstop, and Frontier Days are a great chance for me to get to know them a little better.”
With most classwork generally finished during school hours, kids have plenty of time for extracurricular activities. “Two of my kids are heavily involved in the theater program at the local high school, and while their peers there are hitting the books between scenes, my kids are free to relax and socialize without any other pressing concerns,” King-Christison says. “If they left the house at 7 and didn't return home until 8 or 9 at night, and then had hours of homework to do, I can't imagine we'd be able to maintain the family bonds that we enjoy. I'm grateful that FCA offers us the gift of stress-free time together.”
To learn more about Frontier Charter Academy, visit frontiercharteracademy.org.