Eighth-grader Abigail Austin, 14, studies genetics at home using the Vail School District’s “rigorous” Digital Learning Program. The online school has more than 100 full-time students and about 65 part-timers statewide.

A.E. Araiza / Arizona Daily Star

For eighth-grader Abigail Austin, P.E. class doesn’t involve running around in a school field with a throng of other students her age.

“In the morning, me and my mom — we go to the gym,” Austin said. “That’s my P.E.”

When she returns from the gym, she spends an hour each studying language arts, math, social studies and health sciences, with a lunch break in between — all outside the confines of a traditional classroom.

Austin is enrolled in Vail School District’s Digital Learning Program, a K-12 online school to which she made a transition last November from a regular middle school.

Austin, who was honored with an academic-excellence award at the program’s awards assembly last month, said she initially just wanted to take one higher-level algebra class that wasn’t offered at her middle school. Now, she is enrolled in the program full time.

“I feel like I’m learning a ton more than I would in a regular school,” she said. “I’m also able to set my own schedule.”

The program, which now has more than 100 full-time students and about 65 part-time students statewide, offers a “rigorous online curriculum,” said John Roberts, Vail’s digital-learning coordinator. It allows students like Austin to take higher level or extra-credit courses.

It uses an online learning platform called “Edgenuity,” he said. Through this platform, students can take all courses necessary for graduation.

There are students in the program who just want to get ahead, but there are also others who need this program for different reasons, said Eva Peters, the digital-learning English and Spanish teacher.

For example, Peters said some students who have trouble “physically being in class” for extenuating circumstances could stay on track at their own pace.

But the program requires “a lot of commitment, dedication and discipline” from the students, she added.

Austin, whose dream is to study engineering, said she keeps herself motivated by monitoring her progress and grades online.

“If you fall behind, it’s really brutal to catch up,” she said. “You really need to be self-motivated.”

She said she misses the social interactions she used to get from going to a regular school.

“That’s probably the only thing I miss,” she said. “I really don’t miss stuff like bullying or girl drama or cliques. You don’t have any drama happen in online learning.”

Yoohyun Jung is a University of Arizona journalism student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact her at starapprentice@azstarnet.com