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Greene: Consolidation Cyber-style

For more than 15 years, Vermont high schools have offered Virtual High School to students who want to take classes their schools can’t provide. These courses are taught by teachers from all over the country, using a variety of curricula. Costs are covered by the high school in a combination of teacher hours and fees in exchange for student slots.

The VHS catalogue lists 250 courses, ranging from animal behavior and zoology to entrepreneurship.

Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative (VTVLC) is a new program based in Springfield. It uses Vermont licensed teachers working from VT approved curricula, which, according to Bob Thibault, Principal of Springfield High School, guarantees the presentation will be in line with VT standards.

But Thibault points out that virtual learning is not for everyone. Students must have a high degree of independence to follow through. “Students with skill gaps have a very hard time with virtual learning,” he says. So enrichment courses seem to work better online than remedial ones.

Another option is dual enrollment courses, which can be taken either in high school or online. These are run in collaboration with UVM, the Community College of VT and New England Culinary Institute. Completing a course with a high grade gives students both college and high school credits for that course. Right now, juniors and seniors can take one of these courses free each year. Eventually they will cost about $150 each, says Thibault, which is still a savings over the per credit costs at college.

In addition, any course a college offers online can be taken as dual enrollment.

Thibault sees dual enrollment classes as providing some competition for AP classes, since completing a dual enrollment class with an A or B will guarantee college credit, without a whole semester’s performance riding on an AP exam.

Denise Piffard, guidance counselor at Twin Valley High School in Wilmington, admits there was a drop this year in online learning at TVHS, where Virtual High School was the only program available. She cites ongoing issues with local internet connections as being part of the problem. But she also wonders if online classes aren’t just a bad fit for some learning styles. She notes that s ocial learners, who thrive in study groups and collaborative projects, can have a particularly hard time slogging through coursework alone.

Sarah Shippee, whose two sons both attended Twin Valley last year, recalls that her independent learner liked his video game design class where students had to give specific feedback on each other’s games. His brother, a more social learner, who took a course in investing found the lack of face to face interaction unsatisfying, and won’t be taking online classes this year.

Shippee believes that parent involvement is key: “At some larger schools opportunities may be more immediately apparent”, she says, “But if parents and students are willing and able to do a little legwork a great education can be found in smaller schools.”

Stephanie Greene is a free-lance writer now living with her husband and sons on the family farm in Windham County.
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