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By GreatSchools Staff
A variety of options exist online for high school students seeking advancement or courses not offered at their school. Students can participate individually, or, in the case of Virtual High School(VHS), a regular high school may participate and provide multiple course options for its students.
Virtual High School was created in 1996 through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Its goal was to form a consortium of high schools working together to offer online courses. Today VHS is a nonprofit organization that offers 271 courses to 4,700 students each semester. Schools pay an annual membership fee and at least one teacher from their school signs on to be an online instructor. That teacher participates in professional development online through VHS before teaching a course and teaches a group of no more than 25 students who may sign on from any VHS-affiliated school anywhere in the world.
Students can select from the course catalog and might take such courses as pre-veterinary medicine, Advanced Placement statistics or calculus, or screenwriting fundamentals. The regular high school the student attends covers the cost of class materials and online instruction. Students typically participate in their online course - listening to lectures, conversing in online discussions and doing group projects - at their regular high school during a class period in the school day.
Students who participate learn to manage their time and take control of the learning process. "High school can be incredibly cliquish," says VHS CEO Liz Pape. "Here no one has any preconceived notions of who you are. Here it's OK for a football player to take contemporary poetry." The online classes are also effective in reaching kids who might sleep in the back of a regular classroom, or English language learners who have the opportunity to work at their own pace. In the online classroom, every student participates and the instructor can easily see what the level of participation is.
Students can also take classes at VHS on their own, without being affiliated with a regular high school during the school year or during the summer by paying a fee.
The Education Program for Gifted Youth Online High School at Stanford University (EPGY-OHS) was launched in 2006 as an outgrowth of the Education Program for the Gifted at Stanford. It is a three-year, diploma-granting program, a complete online high school, that provides an opportunity for gifted students to be challenged in an online environment. "We are looking for a certain kind of student," says Jan Keating, the school's headmaster. "We want students who show academic excellence in testing or school performance." Students must apply for admission and pay tuition. Some students are enrolled full time while others take some courses at their local high school and some classes through EPGY-OHS. Students work on Centra - a Web-based tool that allows for class discussions, a white board for the instructor and lectures that the students can watch on their schedule. There are even clubs, a student government and a parent association, all online.
Maya Lewis, a sophomore at EPGY-OHS, enrolled because she wanted a challenge and the opportunity to take a risk. An avid musician and a gifted student, she typically spends the first part of her day at home in Ft. Worth, Texas, practicing the piano. Then she might listen to the lecture for one of her core classes, "Democracy, Freedom and the Rule of Law," do the assigned reading and participate in an online discussion. She's a member of the student government and is working on organizing a buddy program for next year, so new students will have experienced students to lean on for advice. Maya says she definitely misses the social aspects of regular high school, but she and her online classmates organized an on-the-ground get-together in Chicago during spring break, and some students plan to take courses at Stanford University this summer. On the plus side, she says "Learning how to learn on my own has been valuable; most regular high schools don't help you do that and it's preparing me well to make the transition to college."
Online courses work best for self-disciplined, independent learners. Some have an interactive component where others involve just the student and the printed study materials. There are multiple online options available. Here's a sampling.
Duke University e-Studies Program (grades 8-12) includes online, interactive courses as distance learning programs. Students connect with instructors, course material and 10 to 15 classmates from around the world in virtual "classrooms." Courses run in the fall and spring (16-week sessions), as well as in the summer (8-week session). Students are admitted based on SAT or ACT test scores. Courses cost $750, which includes all text materials. There is an additional $20 application fee. Financial aid is available.
The University of Missouri-Columbia High School (MU High School), part of The University of Missouri Center for Distance and Independent Study, is a self-directed program where high school students can sign up at anytime for the course, and receive print materials (a study guide and text) and take up to nine months to complete the course. Each course for high school students costs $135, plus varying fees for the print materials, depending on the course selected. Students write papers, do projects and take two proctored exams. (Generally they find someone in their community or school to act as an authorized proctor.)
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