Virtual school has everything but building

Canada’s first e-school started in York Region

Era Banner
By Mitchell Brown, Staff Writer

NEWMARKET, Ontario (Dec 19, 2002)–It has a library, lesson plans, recess, report cards and just about everything else you’d expect to find at an elementary school. Well, everything except the school itself.

Located in a non-descript strip mall off Davis Drive and Leslie Street in Newmarket, opened its virtual doors Dec. 9 to become Canada’s first fully online elementary school.

Students who log on to the site can choose from about 10,000 lessons spread out over nine subject areas and every grade level from junior kindergarten to Grade 8.

An automated teacher’s voice guides them through the lessons and praises them when they give the right answers. Students also have access to a virtual library in which they can “sign out” (or download) reference books and short stories for assignments.

The program also rewards students who complete their lessons with time in the “playground”, where they can play games and chat online with their friends.

The site, which is certified by Ontario’s Ministry of Education as a private school, currently has about 50 students paying about $35 a month for the service.

Company president Janice Frohlich said they are targeting home-schooled children and children with conditions that make it difficult for them to learn in a traditional classroom setting, as well as students just looking for some extra tutoring.

Then there are the parents themselves, many of whom are looking for ways to cope with their children’s’ ever-changing curriculum.

“We want to be able to give parents the tools to help their children,” she said.

“My daughter came home in Grade 1 with Venn diagrams. I ended up going to the Internet trying to figure out what a Venn diagram is. We have an instruction page that’s available to parents, where they can read about it themselves.”

Ms Frohlich and vice-president Mike Taylor teamed up in the mid-1990s to create an online educational program that could help their own children with their education.

It took them several years of studying curriculum plans from every province to develop what Ms Frohlich calls “the red book”.

Meanwhile, Mr. Taylor headed up a team of programmers working to build the site’s backbone, making it technically possible for students to submit their assignment answers, play a computerized trombone in the music room, or blend colours in a virtual art program.

Despite the breadth of the site’s curriculum, Mr. Taylor says the site is not intended to be a complete substitute for teachers or parental guidance.

“We don’t believe in replacing the school; that is not our intention,” he said.

“It’s evolutionary, not revolutionary. It’s in response to personal needs that both of us as parents have seen.”

At least one parent is convinced of the site’s ability to keep her children ahead of the curve.

Truus Van Galen, a Newmarket mother of three, heard about the site in September, when about 1,100 students participated in the 11-month pre-launch testing period to iron out the wrinkles.

“Our kids are strong students anyway, but I find with this their general knowledge is getting broader,” she said.

It’s a good way to take advantage of the children’s’ desire to get on the computer as much as they can, she said.


Another feature that pleases her is the ability for students to work at their own pace, adding her Grade 3 daughter is already tackling several of the fourth-grade lesson plans with ease.

The company is currently seeking certification in every province and is already attracting students from the United States, Ms Frohlich said.

As for the future, she said the company hopes to eventually introduce a French-language curriculum, high-school level courses and lesson plans incorporating sign language for hearing-impaired students.

For now, though, it’s just concentrating on getting the word out and showing potential elementary students and their parents what the site can do.

To that end, has relied mostly on word of mouth to spread the message … which it’s discovering often comes from the most unexpected sources.