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DES MOINES, Iowa — As students prepare to go back to a “new form” of online school, some students are concerned about how well they will do. However, an alternative school has used online teaching for the last decade to help prevent students from dropping out.

“There are 4,000 kids dropping out in Iowa every year,” Iowa Net High Academy and Jordahl Academy CEO/Director Dr. Cynthia Knight said.

That’s why Dr. Knight created an online alternative school called Iowa Net High Academy ten years ago.

“Its project based, it’s competency based, so we don’t worry about seat time. We worry about the knowledge that the kids are showing us and what they’re learning,” Dr. Knight said.

This online private school is another option for education during the pandemic, but it’s something recent graduate Joshua Grensteiner took advantage of at a young age.

“When I was at school and not online school … for example, here’s the worst. In third grade or second grade ‘we’ll give you about one minute to do the work and then we’re moving on,’” Joshua said.

Joshua has autism. His mother, Aimee, says structured public school, even in an online format, didn’t work for her son.

“What’s really nice is that there’s no testing at all. And there are no deadlines, so the child can work at his or her own pace. If it takes a year and a half to do a year’s worth of work, that’s great. If it gets done in two months, then they can move on,” Aimee said.

Each student gets a mentor and the curriculum is curated to their interests.

“I needed an art class to graduate and I really was into photography so she created that class specifically so that I could get that done,” said Emiley Bruce, a graduate of Iowa Net High Academy.

Bruce said she wouldn’t have graduated had it not been for the online school.

“I faced a lot of challenges in high school. It didn’t really work out for me. I had a lot of issues and I would not have graduated on time so I just kind of felt like I gave up on myself, but then when I met Dr. Knight, that all changed, and I got so much confidence. She motivated me so much to finish,” Bruce said.

The academy is paid for by the public school or the individual on a sliding-fee scale. If they cannot afford it, there is an option for free education in their non-profit organization Jordahl Academy.

“When they start, they can’t look me in the eye. And when they’re done with us, they have a job; they can stand up and they’re proud. They are so changed by this whole thing that it is the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my life,” Dr. Knight said.