By Kyle Palmer
Every weekday, Chanel Hines commutes from Walnut Creek across the Bay Bridge to an office building in downtown San Francisco. When she arrives (usually around nine), she logs into her computer, sits down at her desk, and checks her schedule for upcoming appointments. Then she might begin working on a project or head to a meeting down the hall.
This sounds like a typical day at the office. But Chanel is 15 and a sophomore at the San Francisco Flex Academy. This is not work; it’s high school.
The Flex Academy—housed in the old San Francisco Press Club building near Union Square—is nearly two years into what one of its teachers calls an “interesting experiment,” where students do most of their coursework online, set up appointments with their teachers via email, and sidle up to their classmate’s cubicle if they need help with an algebra problem.
“You have a lot of freedom here,” Chanel said. “But you still need to get your work done, or you won’t be successful.”
Like all of her classmates, Chanel has a cubicle, one of many spaced out in the Press Club’s old banquet hall, with an oaken bar (now empty) off to the side and crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. The atmospheric setting is unique, as is Flex’s academic approach.
The 165 students take all their courses online through software provided by the for-profit education company K12. Each semester, the students work through a series of lessons in each of the four core subject areas—English, Math, Science, and History. Plus, they take an online elective from a menu of more than 100 options provided by K12, spanning topics such as Macroeconomics, Audio Engineering, and Art History. (Chanel is currently taking French III).
The brunt of the academic work is done online, with each student’s assignments, homework, grades, and assessments tracked and compiled onto an online dashboard that can be seen by their teachers and parents. Some students say they don’t even know what grades their peers are in. “In traditional public schools, there’s segregation between grades,” says student Sophia L. in the school’s promotional video. “At this school, I don’t really know who’s in what grade. I just talk to anybody.”
“It’s an intriguing approach,” English teacher Megan Jacquot said. “When I first heard about the school, I was interested in the amount that technology is used.”
You might wonder what Jacquot does if her students take their classes online. Jacquot said her job Continue reading