There are situations when a sixth grader just cannot attend school in the flesh. The busy schedule of a budding young actress is one of them.
As such, 15-year-old Sara Moore is learning inside a virtual classroom, one that she said connects her to an experience unavailable to her at brick-and-mortar schools. She just finished eighth grade as a student at Oklahoma Connections Academy, a tuition-free, internet-based public school that serves students across the state.
“I feel that my Connections experience gives me more one-on-one time with my teachers,” Moore, who coincidentally lives in Moore, said. “I can call them whenever I need.”
Each week the students have live lectures with teachers, who also have open hours of online classroom time for questions.
“I didn’t get as much time with teachers before,” Moore said of her previous schooling. “It was very confusing. Now with this I can webmail [my teacher] and call her whenever I need.”
OCA opened in 2011 and is authorized by the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board. It is tuition-free and is considered a public school.
“We don’t think Oklahoma Connections Academy is a better option than other academic options in the state, but the school offers an alternative for children who are ahead or behind in the classroom, those who want more individualized instruction, or students who would benefit from a flexible school schedule,” said Tammy Shepherd, OCA principal. “The flexibility of virtual education allows Sara to complete her coursework on her own schedule. If she needs to attend an audition or is filming, she can work on her academics before or after her other commitments.”
OCA has more than 1,200 students enrolled. About 86 of them are from Cleveland County, according to data recorded in January.
“It’s also a lot nicer because normal schools, I guess, there’s always the distractions of other students,” Moore said.
And distractions are something Moore doesn’t have time for. She’s been acting since she was in sixth grade, when she auditioned for a part in the movie “Children of the Corn: Runaway,” on a whim. After school, she showed up for her turn to read in casual clothes, while her peers were dressed the part. She landed the role of “Pretty Girl.”
The movie, a sequel to the Stephen King horror story, released this year.
“When I watched the movie I was like, ‘Whoa!’ I got to be myself and be a different character at the same time,” she said.
Filming took three weeks, and Moore was on set for 15 of those working days. Two of those were school weeks, and Moore couldn’t go. Her sister brought her homework and books for her.
“The principal was very understanding and let me use it as an excused absence,” Moore said, adding that her family wasn’t sure that would pass in junior high. “A friend of my mom’s had been doing online school and it sounded like something that would work really well for us. I can just pack up my things and take them on set.”
Another benefit, she said, is that Connections offers full classes of science, a topic she’s very interested in. She hopes to be a mechatronics engineer (robotics) in the future. One challenge happens when the weather, which can be mercurial in the Moore area, knocks out the internet at her house.
It’s also a bit more complicated to meet people. The school has webmail where students can connect and regular field trips where they can meet in person. But the social aspect of education is a bit more challenging for Moore.
“I find it a little harder,” she said. “I find it weird to just randomly message a student. I definitely think it’s better socially in the brick-and-mortar schools, but I love Connections.”
She plans to continue with the online school for her high school years. Right now, she’s doing free acting for college film students and is preparing for an upcoming quick-turnaround film contest. Moore will serve as writer, producer and actress. This is her second year with the 48-hour challenge and she’s looking forward to it.
As for acting, the future remains to be ... screened.
“I’m not exactly sure where it’s going to go,” she said, adding that she has done 12 films in two years. “I’m getting my name out there and getting more experience. You get what you get and I am perfectly fine with doing what I’m doing now.”
She’ll head to Las Vegas soon as part of a short film that will be released at a film festival there. The movie, called “Son of Saw,” is a fan film for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie. Moore plays the child of a cult leader in this movie.
Most of Moore’s acting opportunities have been in Oklahoma. Her mother quit working to shuttle her to auditions. While seeing her name in lights has been astounding, Moore has her feet firmly planted on the ground.
“It’s really weird, especially when I watch ‘Children of the Corn [Runaway]’,”I think, ‘Wow, that’s me but I’m sitting here so that’s not possible.’ That’s me but from the past. I’m a time traveler.”