There's an 'i' in this team: North Tahoe specialty school turning the pages on alternative education

By Jenny Goldsmith, North Tahoe Bonanza

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — No two people on earth are exactly alike — each individual thinks, sees, acts, responds, listens and looks different than the next.

Why, then, are children expected to learn the same?

That’s a question Kathryn Kelly has not only asked, but also answered through Incline Village’s I-School — a blended learning environment that tailors the curriculum to each unique student’s aptitude, interests and competency, while following professionally developed, national standards for education.

Kathryn Kelly is the founder of iSchool, formerly dubbed eLearning Café, which has relocated to a new space across from the hospital. in incline village, a new wet lab, a more convenient location and a clean slate will help take the alternative education program to the next level of blended learning.

Kathryn Kelly is the founder of iSchool, formerly dubbed eLearning Café, which has relocated to a new space across from the hospital. in incline village, a new wet lab, a more convenient location and a clean slate will help take the alternative education program to the next level of blended learning.

“One-size-fits-all education simply does not work,” Kelly said during a recent interview between moving into I-School’s new facility on Alder Avenue. “We are personalizing education by using technology to individualize learning, which leads to much more successful student outcomes, whether special needs or profoundly gifted or somewhere in the middle.”

REVOLUTION IN EDUCATION

Kelly founded I-School — formerly named eLearning Café — in 2010, with the intention of establishing a community-based gathering center focused on education.

Courses are offered year-round and students may enroll at any point on either a part-time, full-time, tutoring, or just-for-fun basis.

Programs are completed at an individualized pace — an approach that has proven successful for a wide range of students and adults.

“Students across the entire spectrum of abilities learn at their own pace, which means no more bored kids, and boredom is the number one reason kids drop out of high school,” Kelly, a mother of two, said.

Educational content is updated frequently as information, technology and new learning tools become available, and the curriculum follows guidelines established by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.

If the coursework isn’t a good fit for a particular student, Kelly and her team of instructors will find an alternative method more suitable to that student’s particular educational needs.

A HISTORY OF EXCELLENCE

The oldest of five siblings, Kelly was born in Montreal and raised in San Francisco until age ten, when her father was drafted into the Army, thereby relocating the family to Germany.

While overseas, Kelly attended a rigorous German school, where classes met six days a week with a schedule boasting 14 courses at any given time.

“That experience of high academic expectations … was the starting point of everything wonderful in education that followed,” Kelly said.

That starting point may have occurred in Germany for Kelly, but her roots in education extend far deeper. Her mother formerly served on the Bureau of Education Research, her grandmother was a teacher and Dean of Women at Punahou School in Hawaii, and her great grandfather was a highly-recognized Professor of English at Stanford at the start of the 20th century.

“I am grateful that education runs deep in the family, and as the oldest of five, I probably benefited the most,” Kelly said. “Now that I am an educator, I definitely see a close association between parent interest and our students’ achievements, regardless of innate ability.”

Kelly, who attended Stanford and Columbia, added, “Education most definitely starts at home.”

CHOOSING THE ALTERNATIVE PATH

Before entering a career in education, Kelly received a doctorate in toxicology. She moved in 1996 to North Lake Tahoe, where her family had been vacationing since the 1920s.

Though still qualified to testify in criminal court as a practicing toxicologist, Kelly shifted her focus to education after adopting two seven-year-old boys and taking a leave to educate them abroad.

While her sons — now 16 and 18 — were given the option to attend a traditional school environment, both have chosen to stay close to home at I-School.

Her oldest son, Kolya, will graduate in December and has his sights set on attending college to become a professional athletic instructor.

“This type of learning lets me move at my own pace, and it gives me more one-on-one interaction, which works better for me,” Kolya said while unpacking boxes at the new I-School space. “At a regular high school, classes are limited, but here, I’m able to take courses that I’m more interested in.”

Kathryn glowed with modest pride listening to her son.

“I never get to hear him talk about I-School like that,” she said. “I’m almost speechless – that was so interesting to listen to.”

WRITING A NEW CHAPTER

The alternative education center relies on grants, donations and tuition fees for funding, and I-School has received affiliation with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, which provides transcripts for challenging courses not previously available to Nevada students, like Forensics, Japanese and Oceanography.

An open house is slated for Thursday, May 21, at the new space next to the hospital on Alder Avenue in Incline Village.

In addition to being a more convenient location, the new facility will offer a wet lab for the first time, and will also revive some of the initial components associated with the eLearning Café, like the warm and visually stimulating coffee-shop vibe from its first location.

“It’s a very exciting time to be in education,” Kelly said. “That’s not to say it’s always easy, but somewhere along the line, your core set of values will allow you to look at yourself in the mirror every day and say, ‘I’m doing the right thing and heck with the rest.’”

Jenny Goldsmith is a North Tahoe-based freelance writer and a former reporter for the Sierra Sun newspaper.

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