July 1, 2019
In May, 33 seniors from five different states graduated in ASU Prep Digital’s second-ever graduating class. The rigorous virtual high school’s enrollment has increased 300% (to 300 full-time students) since last year, when the inaugural graduating class of three students earned their diplomas.
In addition to the digital full-time academy students, ASU Prep Digital also served 4,000 part-time students through augmenting district offerings across the state and country and is rapidly expanding its footprint. The program was founded in 2017 and is part of ASU Preparatory Academy, an innovative pre-K–12 school started by ASU that serves more than 2,300 students at five campuses throughout Arizona.
ASU Prep Digital students at graduation at Wells Fargo Arena. Photo by Asa Culver.
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ASU Prep Digital students get to know their classmates, teachers and success coaches virtually, but there are also in-person meetups in Arizona. A graduation lunch and ceremony in Tempe on May 22 was the first time that many of the graduating seniors had met in person. Fifteen ASU Prep Digital students participated in commencement at Wells Fargo Arena, including one who flew in from New York, walking the stage with the 230 ASU Preparatory Academy graduates who celebrated on May 24.
One student who attended in-person graduation festivities was ASU Prep Digital graduate Aidan Chutkan, 17. The Phoenix resident enrolled in ASU Prep Digital after attending a charter school that unexpectedly shut down. He tried other online options, but nothing clicked before he enrolled at ASU Prep Digital, where he enjoyed taking advantage of dual enrollment; his favorite class was Engineering 100.
“I took four classes here last semester, so I spent most of my time just hanging out on campus,” he said.
He enjoyed getting to know ASU’s Tempe campus through his college courses and studying at Hayden Library. He found it invaluable to get a preview of his future academic and campus life.
“It was really great to be able to experience the classes that I’m going to be taking in college and get ahead on the work I’m going to have to be doing. It sort of gave me an idea of what I want to be doing,” Chutkan said.
“When I started I thought I’d be majoring in computer science, but now I switched to mechanical engineering. It helped to show me what I like to do.”
He’ll be pursuing mechanical engineering in the fall at ASU and wants to focus on renewable energy and the environment; this path makes sense for him because he’s always liked building things, and he’s been interested in environmentalism ever since going on a trip to the Galapagos. Chutkan is especially excited to get started in research and hands-on work as part of the Grand Challenge Scholars program at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.
Eighteen-year-old Allie Reckinger from Gilbert, Arizona, was also at the luncheon in Tempe to celebrate graduation. She said that before she enrolled at ASU Prep Digital, she wasn’t sure she would graduate on time.
“I needed something stable in my life. I went to a traditional high school, and it just wasn't working for me at the time,” she said. “I stumbled across ASU Prep Digital online ... and I fell in love with it.”
She said meeting everyone in person was like meeting celebrities after knowing people in a tight-knit virtual community. Reckinger said she was grateful for the confidence the community gave her that she was going to succeed.
“This is a great place to flourish. You’re on your own time and your own schedule, but you have amazing support and amazing helpers to be there for you — even if you fall and stumble and think you’re not gonna graduate,” she said.
“They’re there to see you succeed.”
Reckinger will be attending ASU in the fall to study nursing. She wants to work as a nurse in pediatrics and later train to be a physician’s assistant. Working in health care is a family tradition, and she is passionate about helping people, especially children and veterans.
ASU Prep Digital enrolls students in Arizona and around the world, offering flexible and accelerated coursework, access to for-credit college courses at ASU and both full-time and part-time options. The virtual school program prepares students for college acceptance, enabling them to start earning credit toward college majors and careers.
Executive Director of Digital Academy for ASU Prep Digital Jill Rogier said students such as Chutkan, Reckinger and the rest of the class of 2019 are the picture of the 21st-century student.
“These students are living out what it means to progress through a learning path as they are ready versus according to a prescribed four-year timeline for high school and then four more years through college,” Rogier said.
“They also represent what it means to work with peers located all over the world. This is the reality of today’s global workforce, and we’re pretty excited to be part of preparing students for that reality. These students are going into the future workplace with eyes wide open and with experience under their belts,” Rogier said.
The ASU Prep Digital class of 2019 is moving on to study engineering, religious studies, nutrition and more in Arizona and beyond. Some, including Chutkan, graduated high school with significant college credit — 34 in his case. McKenna Basteyns earned 26 credits while at ASU Prep Digital, and their classmate Erik Johnson will start college with 19 credits. Johnson, a National Merit Scholar, also graduated a year early and will be a Barrett, The Honors College student at ASU in the fall.
ASU Prep Digital faculty and staff love seeing students graduate high school so far ahead of the game, said Rogier.
“Our dream is to graduate students who are confident about where they are headed and who feel prepared to walk toward their future, even as technology is driving changes in the workforce daily. Our teachers and learning success coaches work closely with the students to prepare them for this exact moment, and it’s so rewarding to watch it happening,” she said.
“It’s amazing, really, and such a privilege to be part of it.”
ASU Prep Digital strives to advance next-generation education models that transcend the traditional boundaries between high school and college and eliminate barriers based on location, modality, background and income so that all learners can thrive.