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Pasco School District to offer online learning for K-8 students statewide

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(The Center Square) – Students across Washington state will have the opportunity to attend Pasco School District next year without leaving their homes, thanks to a recent expansion of an online learning program.

The Internet Pasco Academy of Learning, or iPAL for short, has catered to PSD students since 2013; however, starting in the 2024-2025 academic school year, any K-8 student living in Washington can apply, said Megan Hockaday, director of Pasco Digital Learning Academy.

Previously, only K-12 students living within PSD or near the district’s boundaries could apply. This recent expansion opens the opportunity to hundreds of thousands of students, whether in Seattle, Spokane, or anywhere else; nearly everyone will have access, she said.

“We applied this year with [the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction] for a multidistrict license,” Hockaday said, “what that means is we’re expanding to be able to enroll kids who are all over the state.”

Pasco geared the 100% asynchronous program toward students who require a more flexible schedule. She said that whether requiring specialized support for an Individualized Education Program or just a more accelerated and personalized pathway, iPAL caters to the student.

Hockaday noted that the state is primarily responsible for funding the program. While Washington covers most of the operational expenses, she said PSD picks up costs related to supplies, such as student laptops.

The goal was to expand access to iPAL for as many people as possible while decreasing any associated costs for students. Once someone submits an Out of District Interest Form, Hockaday said an enrollment meeting then takes place to discuss expectations.

“We walk them through our program and our expectations, we talk about their needs, any special needs they might have, and then we determine if it’s a good fit,” she said.

Whether living in Pasco or not, any student accepted would then enroll in PSD, Hockaday said; transferring them from their current school district.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, schools across the country transitioned to an online distance-learning model; many argued that the format provided a subpar quality of education compared to in-person learning.

Hockaday said PSD caters the program to meet students’ needs, whereas distance learning during the pandemic was less flexible. Despite iPAL being 100% asynchronous in terms of learning, students can still meet in person or virtually with their educators.

Like any other school, Pasco’s Digital Learning Academy has a physical building where students can participate in in-person workshops and other activities. She said the academy also offers virtual robotics classes, field trips, PE, health and a music program to iPAL participants.

“We’re really bringing on some new and innovative things to meet those kinds of needs,” Hockaday said, “so kids are getting [that quality of education.]”

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