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300 take classes from Ripon’s free online academy

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Mike Mandujan, who teaches Social Studies at California Connections Academy @ Ripon, gives visitors including Ripon Unified Trustee Kit Oase a demonstration of the online process of teaching during...


POSTED April 9, 2013 1:47 a.m.

When Don Ogden first step foot inside the local California Connections Academy, he was met with an empty office space with no teachers.

That was a year ago. Since then, the former home of Ability Mortgage has become a 21st century tuition-free public virtual public school.

“I was able to put together a fabulous staff,” said Ogden, who has an enrollment at California Connections Academy @ Ripon – or CalCAR – of about 300 students  from Alameda, Amador, Contra Costa, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Santa Clara, and Stanislaus counties in that inaugural year.

On Monday, he held an open house consisting of his teaching and support staff, specifically, for officials from the Ripon Unified School District.

“As the charter school authorizers, we have to get a first-year progress report (of CalCAR),” said Superintendent Louise Johnson.

Later in the evening, Ogden was scheduled to give that report on the first year of operation at the RUSD school board meeting.

Irene Burgess found about CalCAR not too long ago after her family – included are her husband and three sons, ages 16, 14 and 9 – moved to Stockton from Orland, which is about hour drive north of Sacramento along Interstate 5.

Her oldest boy is a sophomore and special needs students. Yet he also had love for learning and was in search for a challenge, academically, outside of a traditional school.

Burgess found out about CalCAR and enrolled her eldest into the program that not only allowed him the flexibility to learn at home but gave him a curriculum that met rigorous state education standards.

Burgess’ other two sons soon followed. “All three of my boys are self-motivated – they enjoy learning,” she added.

Home or away, the Burgess boys follow a set schedule, bringing their laptops and text books to keep up on their studies. From Monday to Friday – much like a traditional school – they’ll click on to their CalCAR classes beginning at 9 a.m.

They’ll take lunch at noon and hit the gym, take walks, or engage in other activities to fulfill their P.E. requirements.

As for teachers, Mike Mandujan in the Social Science Department is a favorite among the Burgess boys.

A year ago, Mandujan was teaching at Heald College in Stockton. He’s also completing his master’s degree in Education Technology.

“I have a love of technology, teaching and history – I get all three right here,” said Mandujan, who is currently covering World War II in his History classes.

Through the online program, he’s able to interact with 111 students enrolled in his 21st century virtual classroom, which takes place in his cubicle at the facility located at 580 N. Wilma Ave., Suite G.

“I interpret a lot of data from there,” said Mandujan, who further explained the process as a way of determining what students know and what they don’t know.

Ogden, meanwhile, finds the Ripon location ideal, especially for field trips.

Since most of the students at CalCAR are considered high achievers, they’ve visited several colleges and universities, including Sacramento State, Pacific, Stanford, and San Francisco Institute of Art, to name a few.

Irene Burgess, who is president of Club Orange – equivalent to PTA, she said – has met many of folks taking their kids to and from the field trips.

Together, they’ve developed a bond that includes teachers and staff in just the first year of this virtual school. “We’re now one big family,” Burgess said.

More information on the California Connections Academy @ Ripon can be obtained by clicking on to

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