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For the week of May 1 - 7, 2002

  News

Schools are keeping pace with todayís cyber world


By DANA DUGAN
Express Staff Writer

If we can shop, make travel plans, and chat online, why canít high school students actually take classes? Well, now in Idaho and several other states in the country, they can.

Thanks to a last minute lobbying effort by former Blaine County School District Superintendent Phil Homer, a bill was presented to the Idaho Legislature in January expanding the charter school statute to allow creation of an Idaho Virtual High School.

The bill was sponsored by the Idaho Superintendents Association. The school received its charter from the Mountain Home School Board of Trustees.

The benefits of distance learning and online instruction are many, said Larry Slade, principal of the Idaho Virtual High School based in Mountain Home. He is also the principal of the Richard McKenna Alternative School in Mountain Home.

Within the course time, students can proceed at their own pace, listening to lectures twice if need be, and taking time to absorb the lesson without fear of peer pressure. In virtual schools, there are no bullies, princesses, surly teachers or bells. Students can also repeat failed classes. In fact, of the 110 students already signed-up to begin work this June, 90 percent are doing credit recovery, Slade said. Several students from the Midvale school are taking classes online just "to get ahead."

The virtual classroom lets students in the many small, rural school districts reach outside their community by taking specialized courses that would ordinarily not be available to them. It also provides extra instruction for home schooled students, in topics such as technology and languages.

One alternative school student, Carissa Atwood, 17, from Mountain Home, has signed up for classes through IDVHS. She said her school doesnít offer science or math credits. "I figured I could take them online, get the credit and graduate on time."

Working students can finish their high school career while holding down a job and academically advanced students have the luxury of completing degrees more quickly.

A virtual education can also aid students who may be hampered with health problems that force them to miss school, dropouts who would like to re-enter mainstream school, expelled students and young single parents.

Aligned with the Idaho State Standards, the IDVHS is publicly funded. Any Idaho student under 21 may enroll at no charge in IDVHS courses. Students over 21 and out-of-state students must pay tuition to take the classes.

Up to five classes may be taken at a time. The maximum amount of time allowed for a semester course is 18 weeks in order to receive credit, though in the future Slade hopes that students can enroll at anytime and work at their own pace. For now, there are two sessions: a nine-week summer session, which begins June 1 and an 18-week fall/winter session, which begins in September.

Assignments are completed offline and submitted to the certified teachers who act as Web tutors via email. Slade said he has recruited tutors, located throughout the state, who are trained in online education. "Behind every course, there is a Web tutor who contacts the students weekly by phone and e-mail. We want to connect kids with good teachers."

"If anyone in Sun Valley wants a job, we are looking for teachers," Slade laughed. "If you have an Internet connection, you can live in a cabin and teach these kids."

A final exam, which is monitored by an educator, or a librarian whose credentials are checked out by the IDVHS, must be completed to receive course credit. The monitor, who is given a password by IDVHS, sends the exam on to the Web tutor, who then scores the exam.

The IDVHS has applied for accreditation as a Distance Education School from the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges. For more information go to their Web site at idvhs.org or call (208) 580-2449.

 


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.