Virtual High School expands opportunities for Columbia students

Friday, February 11, 2011 | 5:27 p.m. CST; updated 7:48 p.m. CST, Friday, February 11, 2011

COLUMBIA — Tavair Tapp needed to fulfill half an English credit. 

The senior at Rock Bridge High School loves writing poetry, but he couldn't study it because the school did not offer any courses in the subject. 

He found one through another program — Virtual High School.

Virtual High School, a global consortium program based in Massachusetts, is part of the Columbia Public School District's efforts to increase technology use in education. 

The district began using the program in September 2009. This year, they doubled the number of available slots for students.

Through Virtual High School, students can choose from a selection of more than 200 courses, including creative writing, forensic science, American popular music and Mandarin Chinese. Advanced Placement, or AP, is available for year-long courses. Enrollment is free.

Sally Beth Lyon, chief academic officer for Columbia Public Schools, said online courses allow students to take classes that don't typically fill in a traditional classroom setting.

Virtual High School is also helpful for students with part-time jobs or busy schedules, said Julie Nichols, manager of instructional technology for the district. 

“Kids that are heavily involved in band or sports may have to leave school early," Nichols said. "If they’re taking a virtual course, they can access it 24-7, whenever they want."

Nichols said Virtual High School also helps teachers become more at ease with teaching in an online environment. 

“As a teacher, it allows you to teach in a global classroom," Nichols said. "I’ve had students from all over the world."

For Trishay Tapp, a junior at Rock Bridge and Tavair's sister, the global factor is a highlight of the program. She has been taking courses through Virtual High School since the spring 2010 semester. 

In order to become a part of Virtual High School, the district paid a membership fee. Then, once a part of the consortium, it selected how many teachers it wanted to train to teach online courses.

During its pilot run in the 2009-10 school year, the district started with one Columbia-certified teacher. One local teacher gives 25 students the opportunity to take courses each semester.

This year, the district is supplying two teachers for Virtual High School, creating 50 slots per semester.  

Parents have provided positive feedback of Virtual High School, Nichols said.

“They both say it’s pretty awesome,” said Katrina Tapp, Trishay and Tavair's mother. "I would definitely recommend it." 

Nichols said the courses are quite demanding.

“The feedback I hear from many students is that they were surprised by how difficult it is,” Nichols said.

In the future, the district could offer “hybrid classes” in which students would do part of their schoolwork online but come to school for some face-to-face lessons, Nichols said.

"It gives them the best of both worlds, when it’s convenient."

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Delcia Crockett February 11, 2011 | 8:51 p.m.


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