It's back to school time in Northern Nevada and while for a lot of students, that means new bus routes and different classrooms. For others, it means logging on for a new set of academic challenges through Nevada Connections Academy. It's a statewide, online school that starts back up on Monday.

It's also a public school, so tuition is free, and it's become a pretty popular alternative for families that want a little more flexibility with their time.

Lena Riella transferred her daughter Sophia to Connections from a public charter school.
 
"The initial decision came about when she decided she wanted to do more ballet and dance and be able to take more classes, be able to travel more, Riella said.  "They have a very challenging schedule of classes, STEM programs, and we really were looking for something that was going to challenge her academically."

The curriculum can be tailored to meet individual student needs.

"The things they were offering were phenomenal," Riella said.  "Lots of foreign languages, lots of art and music classes and really nice science and math programs, so there's a lot they give to students."

Help, she says, is never far away.

"Whenever she has a problem or she has a question on a subject that she's working on she can call up her teacher on her private line or she can e-mail or text and they get back to her within an hour to 24 hours," Riella said.  "If she still doesn't understand it she can get together with her tutor."

And since the students are learning at home, socialization is built into the curriculum.

"We do a lot of field trips but we also are able to partner with our parent program and offer a lot of cool clubs, activities and electives," said Alison Thomas, an elementary school teacher with the program.  "As soon as as third grade, kids can learn Mandarin Chinese.  In High School they can learn Japanese and Russian.  There's also robotic clubs and chess clubs, acting clubs, even music clubs that go through the Juilliard Program in New York City.  We have so many things that we are able to do because we are an international school."

Connections draws a diverse student body.

"We serve average students whose parents want to participate a little more in their kids learning," Thomas said.  "We also have families frustrated with the school district or the zoned school their child should be going to.  We have families who are active in different competitive sports or clubs so they need more time for their craft.  We have a lot of kids in the Vegas area who are actors and have to travel back and forth to L.A.  We have military families, families in rural areas, special ed families who choose us to keep their kid at home and support them in different ways.  We have families who choose us for health or safety reasons; so we really have a little bit of everyone, everywhere."

The Connections program has schools in 29 states.