North Bend, OR -

School started two weeks ago, but some South Coast students are just now meeting face-to-face.

Twenty of Oregon Virtual Academy's Coos Bay and North Bend students met for the first time Friday morning at Ferry Road Park, where they played games and got to know each other outside of the classroom.

The online public charter school was launched by the North Bend School District six years ago to provide K-12 students statewide with an alternative education option through flexible, individualized learning plans.

Parents need to look at what's best for their child, said Steven Moore, who has a high school freshman daughter enrolled in the online school while his fourth-grade son attends Hillcrest Elementary.

"Whether it's a brick and mortar school or online, I think parents should have the right to choose the education that's right for them," he said.

While the school setting is non-traditional, students still have to have the same number of required instructional hours and pass the same Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests that all Oregon students take.

Parents, grandparents or siblings act as the child's "learning coach," a supervisory position and the student's first resource for questions.

Online students enroll in core courses -- math, science, art, history and language arts -- as well as one of two electives: world languages or music.

Jamie Romaine, Oregon Virtual Academy primary teacher for K-2 students statewide, has worked in both "brick and mortar" and online schools. She said online schools are a "whole different world."

In a traditional school setting, where a teacher is physically with her students all day, it's hard to connect with the parents, she said.

"With a virtual student there's more of a team effort," she said.

On the other hand, there isn't as much face time in online classrooms, especially since teachers (who can live anywhere in the state) can't always make it to scheduled outings.

"The little guys especially want to connect," she said. "They want to draw you pictures, give you hugs. We can send pictures but face-to-face is really powerful."

There's always the possibility in traditional classrooms that students in the middle of the pack will get left behind while teachers focus on accelerated and struggling students, she said. That's not the case in Oregon Virtual Academy.

"In brick and mortar schools you have to plan what you do the entire day," she said. "But in K-12 virtual academies, plans are sent to parents and I work with parents to determine the pace. It frees up time to talk with students and get to know them personally, to send special things to help them."

Abby McManus, whose first- and fourth-grade daughters are enrolled in the virtual academy, said she was drawn in originally because her older daughter, who excelled in school, was quickly becoming bored in class since she couldn't advance fast enough. Now, the online curriculum is set to her pace.

Online classrooms now mimic traditional classrooms in terms of who enrolls, Romaine said. There isn't one specific type of student in an online classroom; they come from all backgrounds, demographics and academic abilities.

"It's not right for everyone," she said. "And it all depends on how a family takes ownership of the program."