Part of a growing, global trend in education
By Michael Turton
Their numbers may be small but the two students enrolled in Virtual High School (VHS) at Haldane are part of a growing, global trend in education. VHS is a consortium of more than 600 high schools in the U.S. and around the world. Schools participating in the program range in size from 6 students to more than 4,000. Courses are taught via the Internet. High schools in 35 states now participate and there are 48 international schools. Student enrollment totals 12,893 in the 399 course sections offered. Participation has almost doubled in the past year.
The myriad of courses offered is especially desirable in a small school such as Haldane which can’t even consider offering certain subjects due to limited enrollment. In a high school of 1,200 students you may find 25 students who want to study Russian, but at Haldane where the K-12 student population is less than 900 that isn’t going to happen. Through VHS, students have access to all major areas of study including arts, business, foreign language, language arts, life skills and health, math, science, social studies and technology. In biology alone, more than 20 courses are offered ranging from Genes and Disease and DNA Technology to Biotechnology and Animal Behavior. “The first and foremost benefit to our students is the variety of courses,” said Haldane principal Brian Alm.” And there’s a lot to be said for having an e-learning experience. Most colleges now require students to take at least one online course.”
VHS is not for everyone
According to Alm, students must be strong academically and, just as importantly, they must be able to work independently in order to be successful. A teacher guides each virtual class from a remote location, leaving students to complete most assignments on their own. Some group projects are completed but in this case, classmates may be on the other side of the continent.
Haldane’s Emily Lombardo, in the 11th grade, has studied poetry writing in VHS. “What I liked most was having people with different opinions comment and critique my writing. I enjoyed my conversations with classmates – discovered a multitude of new authors and novels, and have introduced my classmates to some of my favorites” Lombardo said. Not that unusual – except that Emily’s classmates live and attend school in Texas, California, Kentucky, Kansas, Wyoming and other U.S. states. “I would definitely recommend Virtual High School to other students, it was a wonderful experience” she said.
Margaret Hale guided Lombardo and her classmates from the high school where she teaches in Rocky Hill, CT. Hale was quoted in a July 6, 2010 article in The Connecticut Mirror which dealt with VHS in that state. “It’s not only an opportunity to learn content but to learn the computer skills kids need,” she said. “Honestly – I think every kid should take at least one online class. . . . the potential of this is awesome.” The article also states that 69 schools in Connecticut participate in VHS.
Haldane’s other VHS student is a senior who is studying Personal Finance. Two students had also enrolled to study Latin and Mythology but had to drop out due to scheduling difficulties. Haldane requires that VHS students have one period scheduled for working on their virtual assignments. Two additional students have expressed interest in enrolling in the spring to study Zoology and Engineering for Sustainable Energy. “None of the courses is fluffy because of the nature of online learning” Alm said. “It’s very easy to fall behind. You truly have to be an independent learner.” Courses run on a weekly cycle with assignments made on a Wednesday and due on the next Wednesday.
Alm said that even if students have a difficult time with VHS it can be a very valuable learning experience. “It can be a real wakeup call for college” he said. “Some students think they are independent – but find out otherwise.” He also thinks that colleges take note of students who enroll in VHS. “Colleges know how good a learner you have to be in VHS. I think that would have to help students.”
Cost to district
When VHS was originally proposed, Haldane’s administration considered enrolling independently at a cost of $4,700 a year plus an additional $6,000 to provide a teacher (which is a requirement of the program.) That teacher would not have instructed Haldane students. Instead, Haldane enrolled through BOCES as a shared service and pays $2,750 per year for up to 5 students per semester, without having to provide a teacher to VHS. A school such as Hales’ in Connecticut has as many as 20 students enrolled. Alm said that BOCES is in the process of developing its own consortium for e-learning, using a similar model to VHS, but with local teachers.
Other Hudson Valley communities whose high schools have enrolled in VHS include Croton, Cornwall, Marlboro, Nanuet, Nyack and Yonkers. “I don’t anticipate VHS being a huge part of our program but even with small numbers it is an invaluable option for our students” Alm said.
To learn more about VHS, a nonprofit organization, visit their website at http://www.govhs.org/Pages/Welcome-Home