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Somerset teen finds success in online schooling

Somerset teen Stephen Bezdicek was recently elected as the class president of his online high school class. He is a student of Insight School of Wisconsin and prefers the online school environment to more traditional educational systems. "You can leave public/private school behind, but you don't have to leave your education behind," he said.

"I am hoping to break the stereotype of the 'homeschool hermit.'"

Stephen Bezdicek sat in the Magpie coffee shop wearing a sweatshirt and jeans. A typical high school student, except that it was about 9:30 a.m. on a Friday morning.

Bezdicek attends Insight School of Wisconsin, a full-time online public school that is made possible by partnership through the Grantsburg School District and Insight Schools Inc. He was just elected president of his junior class - which includes students throughout Wisconsin as well as other states.

"There are about 60 people in my Spanish class, but only about five in my Honors English III class," he said.

He said he had initially planned to run for student council, but several friends suggested he run for class president instead.

"My role is to give kids a voice and help them with the transition to an online school," Bezdicek said.

"He's such a leader anyway," said Connie Fedor, of Insight School of Wisconsin. "He is taking it very seriously."

Adjusting to a new school format was not that difficult to Bezdicek. He had already attended a private school in Stillwater, Minn., public school in Somerset and then was homeschooled before enrolling online. His older sister, Sarah, completed her senior year online as well.

Bezdicek was attending a private elementary school in Minnesota when his family moved to Wisconsin. He began attending Somerset Middle School, but was having a difficult time making the transition and the school counselor suggested he take some time to get his life back in balance. He was homeschooled for the rest of his seventh grade year.

His first foray into online schooling was not a pleasant one. Bezdicek said that the school did not support him when it came to assignments.

"That was personally hard for me," he said. "There was no structure - they just gave me the books and there was no teacher support. I honestly did not get a lot done."

For his sophomore year, he signed up with Insight schools. As a public program, Bezdicek was able to get a laptop, software and Internet connection along with the free tuition.

"Basically, they give you no excuses not to learn," he said.

He took four classes the first year, and has since made the Honor Roll and increased his workload to eight classes this semester - the maximum allowed.

Some of his classes have set meeting times, via webcam, where the teachers show slide shows and presentations. Other subjects have teacher's office hours where the students can connect with their instructors for help.

"They record everything so if you miss a class, you can go back and watch it," he explained.

As far as getting to know his classmates, Bezdicek said that is not a problem.

"You can really get to know these people," he said. "I had online friends before, and this is just a different way of getting to know people. My Spanish class is interstate, so I have friends from other Insight districts like Washington, eastern Wisconsin and California.

"Socialization is not a problem," he continued. "We're not in a social school, but it's a social world."

He said the difference between online school and homeschool is that the parents are still involved, but not everything rests on their shoulders.

"This puts parents in the role of substitute teacher instead of principal," he commented.

Bezdicek plans to graduate in 2012 and is thinking about studying psychology in college, or something in the media profession.

As far as online schooling as an alternative to public/private school, Bezdicek said there are pros and cons.

"The con is that you don't have sports, but you can do that other places," he said. "You also don't see your classmates face-to-face that often, but we do have a rally for western Wisconsin once a year."

However, he said the pros far outweigh the cons.

"I still have friends - I'm not sitting in a corner of my house with the laptop asking 'why hadn't you accepted my friend request? It's been an hour.'

"I get to meet a whole bunch of people from all over the country and I still have structure with flexibility. If someone is struggling in public school, give it a try.

"It's the same basic foundation - just don't have the walls and roof."