06/03/07 — Virtual high schools offered

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Virtual high schools offered

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 3, 2007 2:01 AM

New high schools will soon be popping up all over the county, but none of them require funding, bricks or mortar.

The latest way to learn is online, educators say.

Governor Mike Easley's office and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction are responding by introducing two program options for high school students, with plans to trickle down to the middle school level in the coming months.

North Carolina Virtual Public School is an online school community that will serve K-12 public school students throughout the state. The first wave of classes start June 11.

Advantages of the computer-generated course of study, local officials said, are its accessibility and efficiency.

"The governor wants our graduates in N.C. to graduate to three years, if possible," said Dr. Sandra McCullen, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

"Or when they do, to graduate with a two-year associate degree," added Mary Daly, instructional technology specialist for the middle and high school. Some of the programs provide dual credit for high school and college, she explained.

The concept will expand educational opportunities for students, since courses are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Youth already familiar with concepts like discussion boards, e-mail and texting will find those easily incorporated into a learning situation.

The shortage of highly-qualified or certified teachers is also addressed. Being online, the teacher is not physically standing in the same classroom with the students. In fact, the teacher and students may be based in a variety of locations.

"The teacher may not necessarily be in North Carolina, but they have to be certified in the state of North Carolina," said Renee Dilda, lead counselor for the school system.

Courses are provided in every scholastic category -- semester-long or yearlong, accelerated courses or vocational, for example -- and for a variety of situations. If a student has failed a regular course, the online option allows for credit recovery as he repeats it. Accelerated course work is also possible.

Students can take an online course as part of their regular four courses during a semester or in addition to those, providing they receive principal approval. The only stipulation is that for courses requiring standardized tests, the test must be taken at the individual high school, as it must be monitored by a proctor.

At Charles B. Aycock High School, where Mrs. Dilda is based, students are already "lined up at the door" to find out about taking such courses.

"Right now our top kids are itching for the classes," she said. "Before they could not take more than eight classes. Now they're looking for how many AP classes they can take (to) bump them up in class rank."

But the offerings are not just for the honor students, Dr. McCullen said.

"They are free to any child enrolled in a North Carolina public school," she said. Even military families transferring in can take advantage of an online course in advance, she noted.

Officials are doing all they can to ensure the option is open to all students who are interested.

"We'll have a space available every period of every school day," Mrs. Dilda said, especially critical for those lacking Internet access at home.

"For those, they can come before and after school, or go to any public library."

At Goldsboro High School, the Wade Edwards computer lab is open not just to students, but to the public, Dr. McCullen said. Except for the summer months, it is open weekday evenings until 7:30.

Brochures about the program are currently being distributed through the schools. Parents or students can request further information from individual schools. The state's virtual public school Web site address is www.ncvps.org.

One key date, Ms. Daly said, is registration for summer courses, which must be done by the time classes begin June 11.

The second initiative being launched is Learn and Earn, allowing students to take college level courses online while still in high school. In addition to receiving both high school and college credit, the biggest advantage is that there is no charge for the classes or textbooks.

Still in the preliminary stages -- awaiting funding from the General Assembly -- officials are scrambling to have the program in place by the fall. The state's community college system and UNC-Greensboro are collaborating on course offerings.

"It's a wonderful opportunity and this option is for our students who would have liked to participate in Jump Start or didn't have transportation or couldn't afford the gas or the textbooks. Now they have the opportunity to earn college credit," Mrs. Dilda said.

Like the virtual public high school, students must receive principal permission. At the same time, this program is more structured.

Courses, which are all college level, must be taken during the regular school day and have to be assigned a class period.

"When they're thinking about taking a course, they'll have to go through the counselor -- make sure it fits in with their (education) plan, make sure it's a good fit for them, fits into their schedule," Mrs. Dilda said.

Wayne County students will be among the fortunate. Of the 115 school systems in the state, Ms. Daly said, only 71 districts were approved as ready to launch the program.

"Not every system has enough (technological) connectivity to be able to do this," Dr. McCullen said. "All of our high schools in Wayne County will have access, as will the alternative schools."

Calling it a more personalized approach to education, she said the efforts will enhance the "major shift in education nationwide and worldwide.

"Every child is getting the education that they need personally because one shoe does not fit all," she said. "It's to give choices and it's to help with the graduation rate and to promote college access and to be ready for our future 21st Century, making our students globally competitive."

"For some kids, it may only take exposure for online Jump Start courses," Mrs. Dilda added. "That may be just the little bit of fire they need to continue once they leave high school."