The cyber campus — believed to be the first of its kind in the region — comes as cyber charter schools experience record enrollment numbers. When students opt to attend a cyber charter school, their home school districts pay the tuition. The tuition does not reflect actual costs incurred by the cyber charter school and is instead based on the district’s own per-pupil cost to educate a student — a long-standing complaint of district leaders. District cyber programs often cost $4,000 or $5,000 per child, but cyber charter school tuition is sometimes two or three times that amount.
The state’s 14 cyber charter schools enrolled more than 37,000 students last year. In the month after schools closed in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, 12 cyber schools represented by the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools reported an increase of 1,500 students.
Commonwealth Charter Academy, which has a family service center in Dickson City, added 650 students during the pandemic, to end the school year with 11,200 students.
The cyber charter school expects an “astronomical” increase for the fall, with inquiries up five times that of a normal summer, said Timothy Eller, senior vice president of outreach and government relations.
To participate in the program at the Ritz Building, families would choose any of the state’s cyber charter schools, and then pay tuition to CaPAA. The program has not finalized its tuition, but Melcher estimated it will be about $40 per day. Financial aid will also be available.
The cyber campus will serve as a pilot for CaPAA to launch a long-planned full-time performing arts intensive school scheduled to open at the Ritz in fall 2021. The Poli Institute will be an auditioned school with a single dedicated cyber school partner to provide academic studies, Melcher said.
This fall’s cyber academy will accept up to 50 students in third through 12th grades, who will work with academic support coaches. Students will be divided into small groups that will move through the day in pods of about six to eight children. The program is also recruiting support staff to help plan activities, and Melcher hopes to hire people with experience in youth activity planning for resorts, theme parks and cruise lines.
“This is not about making money,” he said. “It’s about providing a service to members of the community.”
Families interested in scheduling an admissions interview for the CaPAA Cyber Campus can email Sheri Melcher, the owner and director of CaPAA, at Sheri@CaPAA.org.
Sarah balances life as a reporter for The Times-Tribune and as the mom of two little girls. A graduate of Ithaca College, Sarah started covering education in 2006. She has received awards for her reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, Pennsylvania Newsmedia Association, Inland Press Association and Pennsylvania Women’s Press Association. She lives in Clarks Summit with her husband, their daughters and their sweet pug, Sadie. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, 570-348-9133 or @HofiusHallTT.