OPIS enrollment nearly doubles for the 2020-21 school year

Online school causes students to transfer to the independent school

Hana Chizzo

Since the announcement that Oak Park High School may stay online or move to a  hybrid for the start of the 2020-21 school year in the summer, many students decided to switch to Oak Park Independent School, rather than do distance learning at OPHS. The number of students attending OPIS has more than doubled this past year and continues to grow due to COVID-19 and families looking for a different learning experience this year.

“We did expect an increase in enrollment but we were not sure how much of an increase [would occur]. As it turned out, the increase was quite significant,” OPIS Principal Kent Cromwell wrote to the Talon.

This increase in enrollment is partially due to the challenges some students face adapting to the new style of  learning due to COVID-19. These challenges presented themselves before Oak Park Unified School District announced that the first semester would be entirely online.

OPIS sophomore Makayla deGiorgio transferred this year from OPHS.

“We already knew we were going to [the independent school] when there were the three [distance learning] options. It’s just easier [than hybrid] since we live further away,” deGiorgio said.

For many students like deGiorgio with a lengthy commute, it was not reasonable to drive to the high school twice a week for hybrid classes and easier to stay completely online.

“We were debating between doing hybrid or [attending the] independent school, and we realized the independent school worked better because it was a longer drive if we do hybrid,” deGiorgio said.

The teachers at OPIS have used similar online teaching methods in the past and are not new to online learning, which some students prefer.

OPIS has made additions to its staff in order to keep up with the growing number of students transferring from Oak Park High School, Medea Creek Middle School and the elementary schools in the district.

OPIS added 3 new teachers, [but] the organization of the program structure remains the same aside from the weekly meetings being virtual as opposed to in-person as they were prior to COVID-19,” Cromwell wrote.

Students have seen many benefits to transferring, such as the flexible learning style OPIS provides.

“You really do have to be independent,” deGiorgio said. “It is easier to have everything on my own time so that I can plan out my week [because] it is harder [for me] to focus online.”

Following a different schedule than OPHS, students at the independent school are given assignments at the start of each week to complete independently rather than new assignments daily.

Many families prefer the flexibility that OPIS allows in regards to being able to work on assignments when their schedules permit,” Cromwell said. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has influenced some students to test out new learning styles.

“If the coronavirus hadn’t happened, I don’t think I ever would have gone there because I didn’t know how it worked,” deGiorgio said.

As the pandemic continues, other students may choose to transfer to the independent school. 

I feel that [numbers of students attending OPIS] along with many other things, will depend on how the pandemic plays out,” Cromwell wrote.

More students transferring to OPIS this year is not unlikely. There are many different aspects to take into consideration before students transfer, however some might find that it is a better fit for them.

I think people might go over [to OPIS] if they read this and think it might be a good option for [them] if they are an independent learner, rather than someone who would prefer to be taught by a teacher,” deGiorgio said.

Through the remainder of the year as the pandemic continues to impact in-person learning throughout the district, OPIS has given another option to families who are looking for a different and flexible learning style.

As many families have struggled with how the educational systems have been forced to change, we are happy that OPIS has been able to be an option that has allowed families to adjust smoothly into a program that they feel is a good fit for their children,” Cromwell wrote.