They go unseen part of the time; their studies are not done in a traditional classroom. But in recent years the online classroom has grown in popularity.

This year, 23 students from Lake Oswego School District attend the statewide Oregon Connections Academy. The number may not reflect local students who have never registered in the school district. After House Bill 2301 went into effect last year, students who register with virtual charter schools do not need their home school district's approval as long as less than 3 percent of a district's full-time student population attend virtual schools.

The OCA is hosting an information session in Lake Oswego on Thursday, May 17, at 6:30 p.m. at the Fairfield Inn and Suites, located at 6100 S.W. Meadows Road.

The Oregon Connections Academy, the largest online public charter school in the state, provides a service that most local districts do not by offering a comprehensive K-12 online program. Because it is a public school, funding for each student comes from the state.

Last year, the state Legislature expanded enrollment in virtual public charter schools, and many new families turned to Oregon Connections Academy. The school started in 2005 under a charter with the Scio School District and now has an enrollment of around 3,000 students from across the state.

'We offer a unique learning experience for our students,' Oregon Connections Academy Principal Todd Miller said. 'They receive more individualized instruction from teachers, greater involvement from parents and a high-quality curriculum enhanced by technology.'

Connections Academy Community Outreach Director Sylvia Pryor encourages families considering virtual school to attend the information session meeting, because virtual education, while a great choice for many families, may not be a good fit for some.

'Virtual school requires parents to make a commitment to be involved in their child's education,' Pryor observed. 'At our information sessions, we let families know what they can expect in the virtual school setting, and what it takes to succeed. We want students to thrive at Connections Academy schools, and understanding how it all works is essential.'

Virtual schools offer a greater degree of flexibility when it comes to pace and scheduling - students can explore subjects more in-depth or spend more time on a subject when they need extra help. A variety of socialization experiences are also available for students and their families throughout the school year, including clubs, activities and numerous educational field trips.

Teachers use special live lessons to connect with groups of students in real-time online classrooms, and there are a number of other innovative multimedia instructional tools to support learning.

Developments are taking place on the curriculum front, with a number of additional courses for the 2012-13 school year. For middle-school students they include studies on the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. In grades 6-12, new electives include digital arts and introduction to entrepreneurship, engineering design, Advanced Placement world history and Latin 3 have been added to the high school level for the new school year. High school students will also have the option to take advanced algebra with financial applications incorporating real-world scenarios such as mortgages and retirement planning.

Among the new instructional tools in the coming school year is a wordplay game for middle-school students to help build their vocabulary skills and a Lab Investigator program, in which certified biologists perform dissections of various specimens and then students can do their own virtual dissection.

The already wide range of clubs and activities will gain additions with the Digital Storytelling Club for students to write their own stories and the Brainteasers Club, which will deliver puzzles and other problem-solving challenges.

More information can be found at or by calling 800-382-6010. For those unable to attend an in-person information session, real-time online sessions with a school representative are available.

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