New Vir­tual Academy pi­lot opens at Stethem Ed. Cen­ter

Pro­gram blends on­line and class­room in­struc­tion

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­news.com

Charles County Pub­lic Schools is pi­lot­ing a new type of ed­u­ca­tional pro­gram for stu­dents who, for var­i­ous rea­sons, may have dif­fi­culty learn­ing in a tra­di­tional high school class­room.

The new Vir­tual Academy at the Robert D. Stethem Ed­u­ca­tional Cen­ter in Pom­fret opened this school year with 35 avail­able spots.

Stethem Prin­ci­pal Eve­lyn Arnold said the new pro­gram com­bines self-di­rected on­line learn­ing with in-class in­struc­tion.

“The Vir­tual Academy is a blended learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” Arnold said. “Kids come in, and they take about 80 per­cent of the course­work on­line, and about 20 per­cent in di­rect in­struc­tion. We’re not just plop­ping kids in front of a com­puter and say­ing, ‘Go for it.’ There are in­struc­tors help­ing them, tak­ing

their tests, there are a lot of things that are done in both a tra­di­tional and non­tra­di­tional way.”

The academy is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thurs­day; hours stu­dents at­tend are flex­i­ble, as long as they at­tend for at least five con­sec­u­tive hours each day, Arnold said.

Stu­dents must ar­range for their own trans­porta­tion to and from Stethem, she said.

“VanGo stops at our front door, so some of our stu­dents ride VanGo, some are driv­ers, some are brought by their par­ents, be­cause of the flex­i­bil­ity in the sched­ule, and some of our stu­dents car­pool,” Arnold said.

Sub­ject teach­ers as­sist stu­dents with ques­tions and dif­fi­cul­ties, and pro­vide in­di­vid­ual and small group in­struc­tion as well, Arnold said.

Tests are ad­min­is­tered by teach­ers ei­ther on­line or in tra­di­tional for­mat, she said.

The Vir­tual Academy of­fers the stan­dard core classes, as well as elec­tives such as so­ci­ol­ogy, psy­chol­ogy and cre­ative writ­ing.

Stu­dents must com­plete the same amount of course­work as in a tra­di­tional class­room, and the aca­demic rigor is com­pa­ra­ble, Arnold said.

“I want to be clear; this is not an easy route,” she said. “The con­tent spe­cial­ists came in and looked at the stan­dards; we use Apex soft­ware, which is na­tion­ally rec­og­nized, we went all over the coun­try study­ing other school sys­tems.”

Arnold said the types of stu­dents who ben­e­fit from this type of pro­gram are var­ied, from stu­dents who have dif­fi­culty learn­ing in a large group set­ting, to those with per­sonal com­mit­ments or health is­sues who have dif­fi­cul­ties at­tend­ing school dur­ing reg­u­lar set hours.

“It’s re­ally a broad spec­trum of stu­dents who, for what­ever rea­son, the tra­di­tional set­ting isn’t the best fit,” she said. “The types of stu­dents we are get­ting are kids who have dif­fi­culty with tra­di­tional high school, they don’t like the huge set­ting, they pre­fer to come in and do what they need to do to get their di­ploma. We also have stu­dents who have some health con­cerns, and so the flex­i­bil­ity in be­ing able to sched­ule doc­tor’s ap­point­ments, or start later due to health needs.”

Other stu­dents, Arnold said, may have other sched­ul­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, or only need to com­plete one or two classes to grad­u­ate.

An­gelina Lehmann, 16, was re­ferred to the academy by her teacher in the home and hos­pi­tals in­struc­tional pro­gram. Lehmann is be­ing treated for a med­i­cal con­di­tion which has made it dif­fi­cult for her to at­tend school dur­ing tra­di­tional hours.

“I like it be­cause it’s more per­sonal, and there isn’t a big class,” Lehmann said. “In a big class, there are a lot of peo­ple cre­at­ing dis­trac­tions and keep­ing the teacher from teach­ing. With this, I can move through the units pretty quickly, at my own pace.”

Josh Wright, 17, said he needs to com­plete two more cour­ses be­fore he can grad­u­ate. For­merly a par­tic­i­pant in the NOVEL pro­gram, Wright said he was re­ferred to the pro­gram by math­e­mat­ics in­struc­tor Jen­nifer Hoiler.

“I like that I can work on my own time, at my own pace, plus, it’s on the com­puter,” Wright said. “It’s more struc­tured and or­ga­nized.”

Wright said he would rec­om­mend the pro­gram for stu­dents who are not “morn­ing per­sons.”

“You have to be dis­ci­plined, self-mo­ti­vated,” Wright said.

Tiffany VanDyke, Vir­tual Academy coun­selor, said there are a few qual­i­ties be­yond self-mo­ti­va­tion that stu­dents who elect to take part in the academy have in com­mon.

“They want to grad­u­ate; they want to do well. I can tell be­cause they ask ques­tions, ‘Am I on track?’ They care about their grades and most of them want to go on to col­lege or a ca­reer. What­ever it is, they have a des­ti­na­tion in mind,” VanDyke said. “I find that they’re not the kids who want to be a part of every club in the world and have nine mil­lion friends. They want to have a friend, and they want to do their school­work and go home. You have a lot of in­tro­verts, but you also have a good mix of ex­tro­verts.”

Arnold said some spa­ces re­main avail­able in the pro­gram. To par­tic­i­pate, stu­dents must be in the 10th, 11th or 12th grade and re­ceive a re­fer­ral from their home school prin­ci­pal. Stu­dents must com­mit to be­ing in the pro­gram for at least one year.

“We meet with the stu­dent and the par­ents, we go over all the re­quire­ments that we have here at the Academy, so that ev­ery­body’s very clear, and they have to com­mit for the year,” Arnold said.

Arnold said po­ten­tial stu­dents need to be self-di­rected, and have the read­ing and com­pre­hen­sion abil­i­ties to com­plete on­line course­work.

The dead­line for ap­pli­ca­tions is Oct. 1.

“This is just pro­vid­ing them with an­other op­por­tu­nity so that every stu­dent can get a great ed­u­ca­tion,” Arnold said.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU

An­gelina Lehmann does school­work as part of the Vir­tual Academy at the Robert D. Stethem Ed­u­ca­tional Cen­ter.

Math­e­mat­ics in­struc­tor Jen­nifer Hoiler, right, as­sists stu­dent Josh Wright with a geom­e­try ques­tion at the Vir­tual Academy at the Robert D. Stethem Ed­u­ca­tional Cen­ter.

The sci­ence class­room for the Vir­tual Academy, a pi­lot pro­gram, is at the Robert D. Stethem Ed­u­ca­tional Cen­ter.

Eve­lyn Arnold, prin­ci­pal at the Robert D. Stethem Ed­u­ca­tional Cen­ter, shows the cafe area at the new Vir­tual Academy.

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