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Virtual high school broadens student experience beyond walls

Online classes benefit some, but not suited for all students

Seniors+Erin+Gonchar+and+Isaac+Baek+work+on+their+VHS+BC+Calculus+class+during+study+hall.
Seniors Erin Gonchar and Isaac Baek work on their VHS BC Calculus class during study hall.

Seniors Erin Gonchar and Isaac Baek work on their VHS BC Calculus class during study hall.

Molly Bailot

Molly Bailot

Seniors Erin Gonchar and Isaac Baek work on their VHS BC Calculus class during study hall.

Michio Agresta, Contributing writer

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     While some students thrive with their newfound freedom, others crumble. This freedom stems from Virtual High School, otherwise known as VHS, which is an online education platform that Lewis Mills offers for classes not taught at the school. VHS is an independent business that partners with schools across the globe offering hundreds of online classes ranging from college preparatory classes (called level two) up to Advanced Placement-level courses.

     “Mills purchases 20 spots each semester from VHS and then gives students the opportunity to take courses not offered at the school” said Katie Blore, associate principal of Lewis Mills.

     Erin Putnam, head of the guidance counseling department, said that the cost was $1600 for each semester for the seats translating to $80 per student. Priority for class selection is given to upperclassmen who desire to take AP courses not offered by Mills, and then spots are opened to all other students.

     Instead of a class, students are given a study hall for the period when this learning would take place.  All of the work occurs online, and is assigned weekly on Wednesday and then must be completed for Tuesday night. Like a traditional class, there is a teacher but there is little interaction between the student and teacher. Typically, the only time the two communicate is over messaging boards, and when the teacher grades the assignments. This
gives students the ability to work on their class whenever they please, as long as all of their weekly work is submitted on time.

     Students often enjoy the independence that an online course provides. But to be successful, time management is very important. Lauren McCard, a senior at Lewis Mills, who is currently taking VHS AP Environmental Science said, “I have really enjoyed the course so far. It gives me more freedom as to when I can do the work and I personally think that I spend less time on this class compared to my other courses in school.”

     With an extra study hall during the day students can choose to either work on their VHS class or do any other work they please. This allows for very motivated and independent learners to excel in the class if they are able to properly space out the workload they are assigned each week. Tania McNaboe, a parent of a student who takes VHS and an English teacher, said: “I think that this course is good for [my son]. He gets all of his work for the week and is able to space out when he does it. In my opinion, this makes it easier for him because he doesn’t have to deal with the uncertainty of how much nightly homework he will receive on any given day.”

     Not all students are cut out for this learning style though.

      “I took AP Physics on VHS last year and hated it. Our only resource for learning was an online textbook, and in a course of this rigor I really missed out on having a teacher to interact with when I was struggling,” said John Mudgett, a senior at Mills.

     This is a common theme according to Jack Rua, a VHS AP Statistics and math teacher at Mills. He said, “There is a lack of personability when teaching an online course. Some students just need that human interaction and personal feedback to learn and fully understand the content.”

     VHS courses don’t have any live interactions or video chats between the students and teacher, making the only
communication through messaging. Another major drawback students often come across is time management. In a regular class setting you are given work or a lesson during the day and then you will often have homework due for the following class. This forces students to constantly stay on top of their work if they wish to maintain good grades. On the other hand, VHS assigns all of the work for the week on Wednesday and then expects you to have it completed for Tuesday, with no deadlines in between.

     “I’ve found that many students will procrastinate with their work and attempt to complete it all on Tuesday night. This often results with the student not completing everything and having their grade in the class quickly drop,” said Rua.

     With online learning, new horizons are created. Often times students will find themselves as peers of many international students. With this new aspect, many different cultural and worldly perspectives can be aroused within the online classroom. The interactions stem from discussion posts and blogs that students post on the website where it is possible to comment and respond to them. In addition to this engagement with a global community, VHS, along with many other online education platforms (such as Khan Academy), offers educational opportunities to many of the world’s less fortunate people at very low to no cost. As long as they have access to the internet a quality education is simply a click away. Although the internet may never fully replace an in person teacher for some, the prospect of online education seems to benefit many around the world.

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