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The virtual charter school The Arkansas Connections Academy is returning to El Dorado on Thursday to hold an information session on Thursday.

ARCA first came to Union County last year, when school leaders hosted an information session, and over the course of the last year, 14 Union County students have enrolled in the school. Principal Darla Gardner said she expects that number to change because they’re currently enrolling for next school year.

The virtual school offers curriculum meeting state education standards to students via online classes that include interfacing with live classmates and teachers, participating in clubs and going on field trips. Students with ARCA have the option to participate in extracurricular activities with one of the local school districts by enrolling in that course at the corresponding school.

The school is free and low-income students can request financial assistance for some of the technological components required for online learning. The school will also help to provide internet service for students who need it.

“A lot of times families don’t realize that there is no charge because we are a public charter school,” Gardner said. “Often times they think that there’s a fee. We enroll year round, we’re an open enrollment charter.”

In the state-issued school report cards that were released in October, ARCA’s school received a C grade for the 2017-18 school year. According to the report cards, the school had 761 students enrolled for that school year.

For the 2019-20 school year, ARCA is expanding to include twelfth grade students, which means they will have their first graduating class this school year.

“This fall we are adding grade twelve so we will have our first graduating class,” Gardner said. “This is very exciting.”

ARCA works with students to develop personalized learning plans for each individual. For example, a student that needs remediation in math but is advanced in language arts would be able to take an advanced English class along with a remedial math class.

The school’s home office is located in Bentonville. It operates during the traditional months of August through May, so students still have summers off.

Gardner said families that are interested in enrolling their student can do so on the school’s website, arkansasconnectionsacademy.com, and that it’s the same enrollment process that requires the same documentation as any public school in the state.

At the information session Thursday, families will learn about the curriculum and activities available for ARCA students. Gardner said the goal of the session is to help inform families about the options for their student and to see if ARCA may be a good fit for them.

“A lot of time families are not familiar with online school and how that works,” she said. “We just share about the course options we have available. We share about our field trips and events throughout the year. We share about our curriculum and the flexibility of our schedule. So it’s really just an overview of everything about Arkansas Connections Academy. Some families decide to attend because they want more information and they want to know how it works.”

Gardner said the school’s students come there for a variety of reasons such as medical issues, scheduling issues due to being athletes, parent traveling for work, or anxiety.

“It’s very different in our environment because students are working from home,” she said. “They’re in live lessons and they feel like it’s a safe environment. They’re having conversations with teachers that’s one-on-one on the phone. They still have that support and that encouragement. Then on our field trips and events, they’re accompanied by their parents so it really takes out the anxiety piece.”

The information session will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday at the El Dorado Chamber of Commerce.

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