Waseca resident and high school senior, Mattea Dann, is set to graduate from online schooling and with her associate’s degree in May 2020.
Dann started her schooling in Waseca at Hartley Elementary changing to homeschooling after the fourth grade. When she got to higher grade levels and her mom no longer felt homeschooling was meeting Dann’s needs, they found Connections Academy online Public Schooling.
Since seventh grade Dann has been attending Connections Academy and has enjoyed her time with the school and the flexibility it offers.
“I was a little bit more excited for that (Connections Academy online) because I did enjoy being in the public school and the social part, but I knew my learning was more important so this was a nice combination of both,” Dann said. “I was really excited, so it made it a lot easier, I was able to learn a lot faster and it was super easy (transition) so I really enjoyed it right away.”
Connections Academy provides classes online for students kindergarten through 12th grade. The classes are run through discussion posts online and live lessons on Adobe Connect so everyone in the class can be present.
“I love it (Connections Academy) because I spend a lot of my day working one-on-one and I still hold the traditional lessons, but I get to spend my day working one-on-one with the students,” Erin Gomez, one of Mattea’s advisors said. “It makes my days full of variety and I feel like I get to know students and families really well with the one-on-one personal conversations in this setting. We really have a lot of one-on-one time to talk and everyday we interact.”
Her classmates range all over Minnesota and though they are online they still do field trips to the main building in St. Paul or there are regional field trips students take as well. The students are required to get to the field trips on their own accord.
“The thing I appreciate about the online is they can go at their own pace and if there’s a project they can spend as much time as they need on it,” Gomez said. “Everyone is working at their own pace which is nice so it’s so fun to see the projects and papers that they do because they have the timing and pace so they can go above and beyond. We’re very flexible. Our motto is ‘Whatever it takes’ and we want all students to achieve high levels of learning. Our job every day is making sure we’re individualizing and reaching out to students who need the help to reach the high level of learning.”
Students are required to do 30 hours a week of school work but they are able to be flexible with their time if needed. They are able to work ahead if they know they will be out one day or unable to work on school. The flexibility is what has allowed Dann to finish high school a semester early.
Each class has a teacher who is available for the students to reach out to through email, video chat or phone call to ask questions about the class or an assignment.
“They really stress to have students reach out since they only interact once a week,” Dann said. “They were super supportive in that aspect as well, so that made it a lot easier to do the online stuff because they were willing to help. I think that was the hardest part for me to learn, just how often I actually do need to communicate with them because I came from homeschooling where it was just me and Mom, I could talk to her whenever I wanted and in public school you saw your teachers everyday where this I don’t see them and I have to reach out. You need to take that initial step to reach out so that was really helpful, too.”
Dann also takes Post Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) classes, sharing how her online high school courses helped her with her college classes to be prepared to work more independently. Taking PSEO classes will allow her to graduate in May 2020 with her two year degree in Administrative Assistant.
With the flexibility of her online high school classes she has been able to take more college classes to get her degree quicker.
“I’m done with high school but since it’s still technically my senior year I can continue doing PSEO for next semester so I’m taking all classes in college next semester,” Dann said. “I’m really excited and if I take all the classes next semester that I’m supposed to I’m going to graduate with a two year degree in the spring, so I’m pretty excited, it’ll be fun, and I’m really looking forward to it actually.”
After finishing her two year degree Dann plans to take a year off to figure out what to do and if she wants to go back for more schooling. She added that with PSEO she is able to take a year off and if she chooses to go back she wouldn’t be behind.
Since starting her online schooling career she has been a member of the Junior National Honor Society, Vice President and current President of National Honor Society and current 12th grade student council representative. Before high school, she was able to participate in sports through the Waseca Public schools system.
“I guess a lot of people I talk to are surprised that we do in person meetings and clubs and field trips and activities,” Gomez said. “I wish more people knew about the things we do in person too and NHS is a great way for students to get involved and grow in their leadership skills and give back to their school and community and they’ve done some great things over the years.”
Dann not only is involved academically but due to the flexibility online school offers she has been able to focus more on her 4-H competitions and trainings. Lola is her family dog who Dann shows in obedience, rally, agility and showmanship. With her grandparents’ dog, Angel, Dann participates in obedience and rally.
This year Lola and Dann received Champion Showmanship Open Senior, Champion Obedience Graduate Beginner, Reserve Champion Rally Novice, Reserve Champion Agility Elementary and Reserve Champion Agility Jumpers 2 at the county level. At the State-wide level they received Reserve Champion Agility Elementary 4”-12” and fourth in Jumpers Two 4”-12”.
Lola and Dann also became Canine Good Citizen certified and received the Novice Trick Dog Title through the American Kennel Club in September as well.
Student council plans a fall festival, dances and other activities for students at Connections Academy.
At the end of the year for the graduates there is an official graduation ceremony with speeches and diplomas are handed out.
“I’ve been lucky enough to work with Mattea through NHS the last couple of years,” Gomez said. “Through that organization they have to have a certain grade point average and 50 hours of community service and through that organization we have meetings every month and throughout the years she has been such an active member and she has become a leader in the group. She’s been a leader and she’s just incredibly kind. I admire everything she’s done over the last few years and you know the NHS group, too. It’s just inspiring to work with those students.”