Virtual insight to a new school

Kiley Jahn, 16, might be living the teenage dream.

She wakes up every morning, sits up and goes to school on her laptop.

When her mother thinks it's time for a break, she straps on her roller skates and takes a few turns around the block.

Her grades are up, she has more free time, and she is making more friends in school than ever. She is also excited about learning.

"This is the first year I'm actually wanting school to start," she said.

The Huntington Beach resident, a soon-to-be junior, is about to begin her second year at the Insight School of California, an online-only high school based in Los Angeles County that also serves students in Orange, Ventura, San Bernardino and Kern counties.

The three-year-old facility is rethinking what it means to be a school, forgoing the traditional brick-and-mortar for cyberspace.

The lack of facilities allows Insight to use the money a traditional school would spend on things like facility maintenance and toilet paper on a laptop, headset and scanner/printer for all its students so they complete the work and communicate with their teachers and classmates. The only thing Insight doesn't provide is Internet.

"We give them the tools, and we show them how to use them," said Sheila Shiebler, the executive director of the school.

Students complete all their work online, attend one live class a week and work independently the rest of the time, Shiebler said.

"This type of environment does require some level of self-discipline," she said. Students are still expected to spend about 25 to 30 hours a week on schoolwork.

"Just because it is online doesn't mean it is easy," Shiebler said.

The self-discipline of getting up and getting dressed every day is still something Kiley is working on, said her mother, Terri Jahn. The school, though, is a good fit for her daughter — her grades have improved, and she's happier, she said.

"It worked really well for Kiley," she said.

Kiley spent her freshman year at Huntington Beach High School, but she found the system too structured and inflexible to meet her needs, and her grades began to suffer. Kiley said she also has a hard time interacting with people her own age, preferring the company of adults, but still found it hard to approach her teachers.

It was while Kiley was struggling that Jahn saw information about Insight in a newspaper, but Kiley's parents were initially skeptical.

"I wondered if it was for real, how it worked, if they charged," Jahn said.

They were also concerned about their daughter sitting at home instead of out interacting with her peers, said her father, Rolf Jahn. Those fears soon disappeared.

The school's system allows students to interact with each other during classes and then keep up that interaction when classes end, Shiebler said. The school also offers virtual student council and other social programs, a number of in-person field trips and the quintessential high school experience — prom.

"I bit the bullet and said we're doing [a prom], guys," Shiebler said. "It was quite a party."

Kiley said meeting students online first has allowed her to get to know other students without any initial preconceptions and has led to deeper friendships. When she has met her classmates in person on field trips or at prom, she said, there wasn't any awkwardness — they just started talking.

"I've actually made more friends in one year than I did in three years [in traditional school]," she said.

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