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Online academy lures 120

More than 100 Rogue Valley students are choosing to opt out of traditional brick-and-mortar schools in favor of logging on to an electronic classroom each day.

The Oregon Virtual Academy, based in Bend but operating statewide, offers online curriculum to students in grades K-11, allowing them to forgo traditional schools and instead communicate with teachers and classmates via e-mail and chat.

The school has attracted about 120 students in Jackson County since opening in 2008.

To get ready for school each morning, 9-year-old Dino Malatesta walks into his Medford living room, powers up his desktop computer and logs in to his online classroom account.

With Dino's mom at his side, he chats with other third-graders during homeroom class Monday mornings, clicking on a "raise your hand" button on the computer screen to get involved in classroom discussions.

"It's not for everyone, I'll say that," said Bobbi Malatesta, Dino's mom, who grew up attending a public school herself. "But it totally feels like you're in a classroom."

Malatesta said that having her son attend school online allows him to spend more time at home with her while still learning from a licensed teacher, an arrangement that's become a growing trend in the United States, according to Leigh Sims, an outreach coordinator with ORVA.

Nationwide, about 250,000 K-12 students were enrolled in online schools in the fall of 2011, with the number likely higher now, Sims said.

After Malatesta registered Dino, the school sent her a new desktop computer to replace her old, slower model, and mailed textbooks and curriculum for Dino to complete at home.

Because she has the option to work from home or not work at all, Malatesta said she didn't want to miss the opportunity to teach each of her three sons herself.

"We wanted to be more involved in what they were learning, and when," said Malatesta, who feels that by combining her experience in homeschooling with the certified teachers Dino learns from online, she is able to provide her son the best possible at-home education.

Under charter school law, ORVA operates as a nonprofit through a contract with the North Bend School District, receiving 95 percent of the state funding of about $6,000 annually attached to each student.

Most students at ORVA weren't previously homeschooled as Dino was, but instead come from a public school in their home district, according to Jim Moyer, ORVA head of school.

Moyer said he understands that there could be hostility from home districts as per-pupil funding is transferred to ORVA when a student begins attending, but said he hasn't received much pushback from Oregon schools yet.

Another online public school run out of rural Scio, Oregon Connections Academy, has attracted more than 2,500 students statewide since opening in 2005.

For each of Oregon's school districts, up to 3 percent of students can enroll in public online charter schools without the permission of their home district.

North Medford High School junior Andrew McHatton attends some of his classes in person at school and others online through ORVA, an arrangement he believes provides the most learning opportunities.

"I'd say there's 50 percent more schoolwork at ORVA, which is nice, because you learn more," said McHatton, who attended Medford's Abraham Lincoln Elementary until the sixth grade, when he said bullying made him want to leave the public school system.

"It was a bit frustrating at first because I didn't have a lot of computer experience. But once I got a handle on it, it was a lot of fun," said McHatton.

McHatton said he plans to finish his schooling at both North Medford and through ORVA.

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or email tristow@mailtribune.com.