On an unusually brisk morning Oct. 19, students and their parents climbed on the hayride at Hall Family Farm in Van Wyck.

Nearly 70 people attended the back-to-school festival for S.C. Connections Academy students. They enjoyed the hayride, corn maze, pumpkin patch and more fall activities at the local farm.

S.C. Connections Academy is a tuition-free K-12 online public school with state-certified teachers and counselors. Educators are trained in full-time online teaching. Parents and students have access to teachers by appointment, email or phone for any questions about class assignments, additional instruction and support.

Tamra Greeley, who lives in York County, is the volunteer community coordinator for the S.C. Connections Academy’s eastern upstate region, which encompasses Lancaster, Chester, Cherokee, York and Union counties. At least 34 Lancaster County students are enrolled in the online school.

Greeley organizes social events, like the one at Hall Family Farm, twice a month during the school year. Her children are enrolled in the South Carolina program, which started in 2008. She said it was a good fit for her family because her husband travels a lot. Online classes mean that anywhere with internet access becomes a classroom.

“The school works well for students who need flexibility,” Greeley said. That means kids in sports, music or acting, or with medical issues can receive the same curriculum as their peers, but with a schedule that works for them.

The school operates on the same 180-day schedule and students have the same vacations as all other public schools in the region. Live classes are conducted through webcams and are recorded for review or if a student misses the live presentation. Elementary and middle school students attend 25 hours per week. High school is 30 hours per week. Attendance is taken and assignments are checked by the parent or caregiver. Parents act as learning coaches with support from the teachers.

The school also offers an alternative for students who find it difficult to excel in the typical school setting. Having teachers readily available for extra instruction and support helps parents help their students.

Jana Martin of Chester County has three children enrolled in the online school.

“The beauty of the program is that they have teachers that are available to parents and children,” she said. “Parents have separate accounts. It helps to be able to review material.”

James Martin, her son, is getting ready to graduate high school.

“My favorite thing is working from home and being able to work ahead,” he said. This has helped him graduate in less time than at a typical school.

Students go to their district-assigned school for sports and testing. They take the same state tests as those in public schools. The school also mimics some of the social events associated with brick-and-mortar schools. They have prom, middle school dances and high school graduation, usually held in Columbia.

Parents and students agree that it is commitment and determination to the program that makes it work.

S.C. Connections Academy is based in Columbia. It is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement.

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