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APPLETON — Wisconsin Connections Academy is combining play-based curriculum with virtual learning for its new 4-year-old kindergarten program, to be implemented in the 2019-20 school year.

WCA is a virtual K-12 public school that serves students across the state; it operates via a charter with the Appleton Area School District. The charter school began looking into adding 4K after Appleton started offering it about five years ago.

“We really wanted it to be play-based,” said WCA Principal Michelle Mueller.

The leaders of the school wanted to make sure its 4K would be a solid program that would meet the needs of the students enrolled before rolling it out.

The 4K curriculum includes games, play with puppets and activities such as jumping and hopping. Students will also be required to spend time out in the community; for example, at the library or through church activities.

“We want them to go out in the community to get that social kind of play base,” Mueller said.

The 4K teacher is to have regular in-person meetings with students in small groups, so they can interact with each other and the teacher can observe whether they’re achieving certain milestones.

Mueller is excited about the addition of 4K at WCA. She started with the school as a teacher when it opened in 2002 and was the only virtual K-8 in the state. About 10 years ago, WCA began offering high school.

“It’s going to be a very comprehensive and complete program that students can start when they’re 4 years old and go until they turn 18 and graduate from high school,” Mueller said.

Who are WCA students?

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WCA’s statewide enrollment is about 525 students, with about 28 of them in the Racine-Kenosha area.

The students work primarily from home, connecting virtually with a licensed teacher while under the supervision of a learning coach, usually a parent. Students receive one-on-one instruction as well as participate in live classes with other students.

The students log in and can ask questions, give answers and show their work as they watch their teacher give instruction and write on a whiteboard. The kids and teachers have headphones so they can talk to each other, and have the option to chat as well.

“Sometimes people question the social piece, but they have a lot of opportunities to interact,” Mueller said.

The school takes students on field trips across the state, doing things such as attending plays and visiting museums.

Mueller said there are as many reasons to attend WCA as there are students.

Some like the individualized approach: “If a student needs help, they reach out to the teacher and it’s all one-on-one interaction,” Mueller said.

Some students come to WCA because they have been bullied at traditional schools; for religious reasons; or because they need to build their schedule around a sport or performing-arts pursuit.

Parents interested in enrolling their child in the WCA must apply for open enrollment with the Appleton Area School District through the Department of Public Instruction. The deadline to apply is 4 p.m. Tuesday, April 30.

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Reporter

Caitlin Sievers covers cops, crime and the west-end communities. She's a lover of cats, dance and Harry Potter. Before moving to the Racine area she worked at small papers in Indiana, Illinois and Nebraska.

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