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Schools offer virtual high school

BALTIMORE – Liberty Union-Thurston Schools media specialist and site coordinator Debra Howdyshell hopes her district will be able to expand availability of its Virtual High School program, which is gaining in popularity. “Interest is growing,” she said.

Virtual High School is a program resembling online collegiate courses that locally provides both Liberty Union and Walnut Township Schools students opportunities to take classes not normally available.

The VHS mission is to provide students with access to high quality online and blended learning experiences, while supporting educators with the professional development and services they need in order to provide an effective 21st century education. VHS partner schools have access to a wide range of core, elective, and AP courses that inspire, ignite and deepen learning as well as enable students to develop independent learning skills, explore college majors and careers, earn credits and participate in global classrooms.

Highly qualified teachers who are specially trained in online teaching best practices, and are certified in their subject areas teach the courses. Howdyshell said the courses do not simply pass along assignments for students to complete. There is plenty of discussion involved, sometimes with students from all over the world who are also taking the course.

A requirement of each VHS member school, site coordinators ensure the program runs smoothly at their school. All site coordinators complete SCO, learning how to recruit and register students for online courses, coordinate materials and resources, monitor progress, and help students stay on track. This fall, Howdyshell and Laura Boffa of Walnut Township Schools successfully completed SCO.

Howdyshell said Virtual High School programs cater to “motivated” students and independent learners who are looking for subjects the district may not offer. The classes are challenging and students are required to interact directly with the teachers and the other students involved in the course.

“A lot of our gifted students make use of it,” said Superintendent Paul Mathews, who explained the district purchases openings for the program through the Fairfield County ESC. The district has offered the program for several years. “When you buy a seat, it actually counts twice,” he said, because the same seat can be used each semester, meaning two students may each have a semester’s use of the same seat through the school year. Mathews added that virtual high school classes are generally “accelerated type programming.”

According to the Virtual High School web site, VHS has one of the largest online Advanced Placement catalogs in the nation. With more than 20 AP courses to choose from, students can earn college credit, or delve deeper into subjects of interest with offerings including AP Computer Science, AP World History, AP Music Theory and AP Human Geography.

VHS also offers several Gifted and Talented courses for accelerated students. Honors courses provide enrichment for students grades 8-12, and high school courses for middle school students give motivated learners as young as 10 years old the opportunity to get ahead and continue their studies on a higher level.

VHS offers very unique electives including Language Arts classes including Ghoulies, Ghosties and Long-Legged Beasties and 101 Ways to Write a Short Story, Social Studies supplements such as the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and Science courses that range from Environmental Chemistry to Nuclear Physics. These are classes rarely found in a regular curriculum.

Howdyshell said the classes expose students to cultural diversity as they “attend” class with international students, and they may complete the courses at school or at home online. They have a week to complete specific sections on their own time.

“I think our school does a really good job addressing the needs of its students,” she said, as the district offers innovative programs like the Virtual High School and the A Plus program, which is similar to VHS, but not interactive with other students. Eventually, Howdyshell said she would like to become one of the online VHS teachers. “I love working with these emerging adults,” she said.

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