By Michele Wee
I first heard of Christa McAuliffe School of Arts and Sciences (CMASAS) in a Facebook post by a homeschool mum. Someone had asked for recommendations for online schools and this mum, Jennifer, highly recommended this school (CMASAS). What particularly interested me was that she had tried other online schools, including the famous Laurel Springs school attended by Hollywood celebrities, but she liked CMASAS best and her sons have been happily enrolled there for four years.
I contacted Jennifer for more info and she shared that she liked the attentiveness and care showed by the teachers for her sons. She also liked that the school was very flexible about accommodating a wide range of learning styles, and that the school welcomes students customizing their own learning with the guidance of the teacher.
I checked out the CMASAS course catalog and was impressed with the wide range of courses, with interesting courses such as renewable technologies, animation, web design, entrepreneurship, cybersecurity, veterinary science, theatre and film production, drums, international business, and even a “Lord of the Rings” course. My son Kyle has been home-schooled all his life and he wanted to continue homeschooling. He had just finished his PSLE but he was so excited to try the cool courses at CMASAS that he asked to enroll immediately.
Kyle started CMASAS in October 2018. When you first enroll, you have to take three assessment tests, in Maths, Reading and English language, so the school can find out which level to place you. Being based in Portland, Oregon, they follow the United States school system:
- Grade 1 – 4 – Elementary school (Singapore Primary 1 – 4)
- Grade 5 – 8 – Middle school (Singapore Primary 5 – 6, Secondary 1 – 2)
- Grade 9 – 12 – High school (Singapore Secondary 3 – 4, Junior college 1 – 2)
Kyle did well in his tests and was placed in Grade 9, first year of high school.
Initially, it was hard for him as he had to adjust to a new school system and the academic work was also very different from the cramming and drilling of PSLE. The questions and assignments are usually open-ended and students have to think critically and broadly. Many assignments are very creative as students need to write stories or invent characters. There are no model answers at all!
Kyle really learnt so much since he joined CMASAS. He had to learn how to do research and cite sources correctly, how to write thesis statements and essays, and how to use MS Word and Power-point. He has also become more engaged and responsible for his own learning. As the assignments are more fun and interesting than those in our Singapore system, Kyle is so much more motivated and happier to do his schoolwork every day. He particularly enjoyed the photography course, for which he created several portfolios of photos.
As a parent, I really appreciate how responsive the school and teachers are. The teachers are helpful and responsive when contacted and usually grade schoolwork within 24 hours. When Kyle was unable to solve a Maths question, his teacher even made an audio recording just for him to explain the working step by step.
CMASAS Students are given a lot of responsibility to be in charge of their own learning. While they have to complete all 12 courses in a year, they choose how to arrange the courses and set their own course deadlines. They also have the freedom to choose what they want to learn and how to present their work. For example, the teachers are very welcoming if the student wants to make a video or give a speech on a topic, instead of a worksheet. In Kyle’s world history course, he chose to write a collection of 10 war poems about World War 1, for an assignment.
CMASAS is an accredited high school, regionally and internationally accredited by the International and Trans-regional Division of the Northwest Accreditation Commission, and by AdvancED. Their students graduate with an accredited US High School diploma, which together with SAT or AP tests, can be used to apply to local universities. On its own, the diploma can also be used to apply to polytechnics.
The high school program is a four-year program (Grades 9 – 12), and the student takes 12 courses a year. Core subjects like Maths are split into two courses (Algebra 1A and Algebra 1B, etc). Students may enroll at any time in the year, and they are given exactly 1 year from the enrollment date to complete the 12 courses.
Although CMASAS supports personalized and customized learning, the academic workload is fairly heavy and at the high school level, students need to put in at least 30 hours a week, or more. The materials (textbooks, videos) are made available online so students learn anytime, and there is no need to “attend” a “live” class.
I would recommend either the Gold or Silver tuition plan at CMASAS. The Silver plan costs about S$8000 a year and covers the basic courses at CMASAS. For Kyle, we chose the Gold plan (S$9300 a year) which covers the basic courses, project-based honors courses, the premium courses they buy from high school content creators (these are excellent), and the comprehensive language courses from Middlebury (also excellent). Under the Gold plan, Kyle is also assigned a PEC (Personal Education Coach) who helps him with course selection and video-calls him every week on Skype to check in on him. Kyle’s PEC is Daisy Cheatham and she is so caring, helpful and responsive.
Gold plan students can also attend a weekly “live” chatroomwhere they meet with their PEC and other students, mostly to socialize or listen to presentations. The students often chat with each other afterwards and Kyle has made many friends. In fact, he wakes up every morning at 5.30am(!) to chat with his school friends, because of the time difference.
Overall, my family is very happy with Kyle’s education at CMASAS. If you want to know more about the school, you can check out the school website at cmasas.org or contact me personally on Facebook Messenger.
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