There’s a strong movement for improving Idaho education, and the Idaho Digital Learning Academy (IDLA) is part of it.

This is an organization striving to address a long-standing dilemma facing many Idaho schools: How does a student in a rural Idaho community like Weiser or Ketchum get access to the same rigorous instruction as someone living in the more populated Boise or Eagle areas?

Not only are there fewer teachers in small towns, but these communities often lack access to teachers with advanced knowledge of technical subjects like coding. In the past, students who wanted (or needed) these kinds of classes were largely out of luck.

Fortunately, Idaho lawmakers acknowledged this gap, and one of their more promising solutions is the Idaho Digital Learning Academy, an online education platform created in 2002 to provide online classes for all Idaho students. Today, the IDLA offers more than 250 courses to kids throughout the state of Idaho.

Here’s how it works. If a student wants to take a class that their school doesn’t offer, such as computer science, he can go to his guidance counselor and mention his interest in the subject. Then, as long as the student is currently enrolled in a public school, his counselor can get him approved to take the course online through the IDLA.

These courses are flexible in their scheduling and afford students many opportunities that may not be available through their school:

  • Credit recovery
  • Early graduation
  • Dual credit
  • Advanced Placement courses
  • AA degree or tech certificate

In practice, these benefits are huge. Students who take the right courses as part of a pathway like the Computer Science pathway could finish school with a tech certificate already in hand, or even have enough college credit to skip a year or two of BSU in pursuit of their college degree.

Of course, online learning isn’t without its challenges. There’s a learning curve for students in actually becoming online learners, and while having access to a teacher through the Web is valuable, it still doesn’t equate to the face-to-face experience in a classroom. Nobody would suggest that IDLA and solutions like it should replace traditional schooling, but it’s hard to argue with its benefits as a complement to our school system.

Dr. Sherawn Reberry

We talked to Dr. Sherawn Reberry, the Director of Education Programs at IDLA, and she said, “We’re here to make sure all students throughout Idaho have the opportunity to take these courses.”

Dr. Reberry has a passion for bringing opportunity to all students, no matter where they live.  She’s worked for IDLA full-time for over three years, championing this crucial program for students all over the state of Idaho.

One of the memorable takeaways from our meeting with Dr. Reberry was a simple quote she repeated from a student:

“I took a course and now I know I can do it. I didn’t think I could.”

That’s what education is all about. Programs like IDLA can empower students with the skills they need to provide a better and more fulfilling life for themselves. It’s what allows a bright young woman in a rural Idaho school to pursue her passion alongside the virtual charter school student and the well-to-do Eagle High School student.

Leveling the playing field to such a degree is a huge achievement. But does it go far enough?

More Education for More People

We acknowledge what Dr. Reberry has already told us: The biggest challenge they face is limited resources. Even so, they manage to provide additional educational opportunities to students at dozens of schools in Idaho.

Legislators have proven to be very supportive of online education through programs like IDLA. We thank them for all they’ve done so far to bring more educational opportunities to the students of Idaho.

But with some more funding, what if we could take it a step further? Think about what happens to the recent high school dropout who doesn’t believe there’s any future for him. Does a 20 year old in Burley have the chance to explore some basic design work and see if it’s something that’s interesting to him?

With access to IDLA — even to courses that aren’t paired with a live instructor — could he audit a class that interests him? The infrastructure is already there, and so are the people who could still benefit from more opportunities for Idaho education.

The Next Step for Idaho Education

The IDLA program provides Idaho education access to all students. That’s wonderful.

What we’d like to see is this same program extend access to all aspiring students too. After all, any non-K-12 student who bothers signing up for a class through IDLA has some self-motivation. They’re the ones who could actually do something with the opportunity — and in a state like Idaho with good tech jobs going unfilled due to a lack of qualified applicants, it’s a shame not to use every advantage at our disposal to make IDLA work for everyone.

Most importantly, we wanted to spread greater awareness about IDLA and the great work it’s doing. Everyone in Idaho should know about this online program and the opportunities it’s affording our students.

In many cases, the only thing people need is the confidence and the capabilities to take those crucial next steps towards a bigger future. With just a small dose of confidence, we can help create an entirely different reality for today’s youth.

Local Boise entrepreneur and dreamer Philip Bennett says, “It’s about imagination, creativity, and ‘what if?’ What if we could inspire hope and confidence by providing access?”

So, what if we did? Let’s do our part to support IDLA and the wonderful students in Idaho.

Do you think online education opportunities represent the future of Idaho education? Or are there other avenues to explore? Become part of the conversation!

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