Logo of Cologne Academy’s new online program. (Provided by Lynn Peterson)

Cologne Academy is ready to unveil its newest innovation: Cologne Academy Online, or CAO. While this sounds like a continued form of distance learning, Cologne Academy Online is an approved Minnesota Online provider. CAO is also the first Core Knowledge online school in Minnesota. Like all Minnesota public charter schools, anyone may apply; the advantage to CAO is that it affords all Minnesota residents the opportunity and access to the school’s enriched curriculum and the school’s established programming success.

“While most learn best in school, we’ve learned that some of our students do just as well or better online,” said Dr. Lynn Peterson, executive director of Cologne Academy. “Our distance learning platform has been very successful for a variety of reasons and extending our online platform to others in the state was the obvious next call to action.”

When distance learning started in spring of last year, Cologne Academy staff met the challenge like all other schools. They brought their teaching to the students through video Zoom links and Google Classrooms. Once things opened back up this year, some students stayed at home, roughly 10 percent according to Peterson, adding up to about three to nine scholars per grade.

While this doesn’t sound like a lot of students, it did have an impact on Cologne Academy. Normally, there are three teachers per grade. To accommodate the social distancing requirements to bring students back to campus and to accommodate distance learning students at home, staff were hired and reassigned to meet the needs of Walz’s executive order. It was because of this that Peterson and staff began to consider the idea of an online option, featuring all the benefits of attending Cologne Academy while still educating students at home. With few scholars in the virtual classroom, the need to expand enrollment beyond a few is imperative to build classroom community and to be financially solvent.

“We applied to the state in June to be an online provider and CAO was approved in February of this year,” said Peterson.

Now approved, there are plans in place for what this is going to look like. These won’t be pre-recorded lessons for students to watch on their own time. Instead, lessons will be live, with the teacher and students meeting together virtually to discuss, ask and answer questions, and engage with their peers. Even though it will be remote, the goal is to give the same level of learning and care to these students as the ones that are on campus. That includes “suiting up” -as students will wear uniforms and follow the same schedule as those in person.

“There is no apology for attending school online,” said Peterson. “It’s just as effective as in-person for many students.”

Thankfully, COVID-19 prepared the staff for the new CAO program. For better or worse, distance learning was a trial by fire, so to speak, with teachers learning by force how to have distanced classes.

All in all, staff are confident moving forward with CAO. The program will be open not just to Carver County residents, but to anyone in the state. The plan is to have the program up and running for fall of 2021; families are able to enroll their students now. You can find a link to CAO’s site by clicking the ONLINE link on Cologne Academy’s main website.

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