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California Connections Academy teacher Susan Christensen, left, with David, Daisy and Harley Calcagno on a recent field trip.

LOCKEFORD — Two years ago, Debbie Calcagno was concerned about the environment at local public schools for her three children.

Her children, seventh-grader Harley, high school sophomore Daisy and high school junior David, had been attending various Lodi Unified School District schools.

“All kinds of stuff had been going on at public schools — like the drama, bullying, drugs and fights — that was bothering me,” Debbie Calcagno said. “My kids started bothering me about it, too. They didn’t want to go to school, they wanted to stay home sick.”

Rather than move to a new area or place her children in another school district, Debbie Calcagno opted for an online alternative in which to enroll her children.

She said she had a friend with a son and daughter enrolled in Ripon’s California Connections Academy who seemed to enjoy the program, so she decided to give the online school a try.

Since enrolling her children in the online school, Debbie Calcagno said they have excelled beyond her expectations.

“I would never put my kids back in a brick and mortar school due to how well their grades have been,” she said. “The help they get is unbelievable, and it seems like the help is much more prevalent.”

Her children said they enjoy online classes because there is less pressure to complete work.

“With going to school online, we get to do the work at our own pace, and at  public schools, I just felt rushed,” Daisy Calcagno said. “I also get more help. I’m able to talk to teachers face-to-face. Sometimes it’s hard to get time to speak to teachers at public schools.”

A typical day for the Calcagno siblings begins at 8 a.m., where all three complete homework for at least an hour before taking a small break.

Then they participate in live lessons with their online class and teacher.

Live lessons include face-to-face interaction over the internet with the instructor, as well as real-time chats and discussions with other students enrolled in courses.

“The thing I like about (California Connections Academy) is the pace I can set and the time of day we can log in and do work,” Harley Calcagno said. “It’s not rushed, and I can work at a rhythm where I won’t have a long day.”

California Connections Academy isn’t just about taking online classes, either, the family said.

All three children are involved in clubs created through the school, and they embark on a variety of field trips throughout Northern California.

David Calcagno said he enjoys the field trips because he gets to meet students from communities such as Elk Grove, Turlock and Tracy and got places such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

“When you go to a regular school, you might go on one or two field trips a year,” he said. “There are a lot more at CCA. You get to travel anywhere, bring your laptop with you and complete your homework when you want to.”

California Connections Academy Ripon is a tuition-free online public school for students in Kindergarten through 12th grade.

More than 1,000 students throughout Alameda, Amador, Calaveras, Contra Costa, Sacramento, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties began the 2019-2020 school year last week. 

The school first began offering its program 15 years ago, offering courses such as foreign languages, digital technology and web design, as well as a variety of honors and Advanced Placement courses for students interested in college-level curriculum. 

In addition, the school provides University of California Ag-approved courses, including several courses meeting the UC system’s visual and performing arts requirements such as art history, graphic design and living music, among others. 

The school also offers Via Individual Determination (AVID) courses for grades 6-12 to help students prepare for college and careers.

For more information about California Connections Academy, visit www.connectionsacademy.com.

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