comments

High school from home

Totally online program new for district
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
-A +A
A new program at Maidu High School in Auburn offers students an option to go to class without coming to school. This year the school, which gives high schoolers a variety of independent study options, is offering completely online courses through the Placer Union High School District’s Online Learning Program. Maidu High School offers several learning options to students. They include 100-percent-virtual learning, which means students have an on-campus adviser, but are taking all of their classes online from home. There is also blended learning, which involves students taking online classes in some subjects and then attending either full or small group classes with an instructor in other subjects. Students can also take part in traditional independent study in which they take online classes but meet with an adviser on an as-needed basis, also participating in small group classes if they want to. A totally online program is new to the school and the district this year. While the 100-percent-virtual learning program is only offered through Maidu, teachers at several other high schools in the district can also use online materials to enhance their classroom instruction, according to Stan Parker, assistant principal for Education Options, or Chana and Maidu high schools. Parker said some teachers at various school sites are also beginning to develop their own online courses. Parker said online classes lend them themselves to today’s students, who are brought up with technology. “This age of student, they are born with that computer process,” Parker said. Parker said the program offers all the classes high school students need to graduate and move on to college. The 27 courses are offered in electives, English/language arts, science, mathematics and more. Rocklin resident Shelby Andrews, 18, said being a 100-percent-virtual student through Maidu is great for her schedule. “I actually like it because I can still work full-time and try to save money,” Andrews said. Andrews is a former Del Oro High School student. After the death of her father in her junior year, traditional high school became too stressful, and she needed to focus on learning, she said. Andrews said the materials offered through online classes provide the same level of learning as traditional classes. “It’s the exact same,” she said. “They have the book online. They will scan the chapter from the book and put it on the computer.” Online lessons, videos, assignments and chats with her adviser also present a well-rounded learning environment, Andrews said. Andrews said while the program is ideal for her, because she has a disciplined personality, that might not be the case for everyone. “It works for me, but some kids might think, ‘I can do school whenever,’ but you still have to put time in it,” Andrews said. “When I do homework I’m on the computer two or three hours a day.” The concept for online courses came up years ago, but started at the district after Jeff Tooker, assistant superintendent of educational services at the district, attended a virtual school conference at the end of 2009 and gave a report to district teachers in January, said Tad Eichman, a history teacher at Chana and Maidu who also acts as online-only student adviser. “He was really excited about what he saw,” Eichman said. “He was saying this was the wave of the future.” Not long after that, Parker approached Eichman, who had been incorporating the computer and Internet into his Chana High classes, Eichman said. “I started doing more and more online … just to save money on supplies,” he said. “(Stan) came to me and (asked) me what could I do to do an online class. We put together a couple online courses at the end of last year. We got a good response from students and parents.” The initial courses were U.S. History and World History, and they were available to any student in the district to try, Eichman said. Richie Young, site system administrator for Education Options, set up the online system for the district. Young said the system allows those who use it to visit one website rather than several, which makes the process easier for all involved. “It’s something that was already out there that would save the district thousands of dollars,” Young said. Young said a commercial version of an online program, such as the popular Blackboard program, could cost the district $10,000-$15,000 to start up and can then jump to a yearly cost as high as $75,000 once a certain number of people use the program. However, Moodle, an open source operator, which the district’s online course website runs on, does not present a cost to the district, Young said. Tooker said the success of Maidu’s program may lead to more online classes at the other high schools in the district in the future, but they will never replace the traditional, or comprehensive, classroom. “It’s going to give us more opportunities to pilot programs at the comprehensive sites,” Tooker said. Eichman said students still have opportunities to socialize by getting involved in activities at Maidu including the basketball team, student action group or small group classes. Tooker said students could also participate in classes at other high school sites as well including performing arts and science lab classes. Dan Wilson, who teaches at Placer High School, said although he thinks it’s great to offer students various ways to learn, spending time learning on a school campus is important. “I do have a concern with the socialization aspect of it,” Wilson said. “I feel part of learning is students learning to deal with different personalities in the classroom.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com ----------------------------------------------------- Placer Union High School District’s Online Learning Program What: A program offering online classes for students at Maidu High School and, in the future, classes for other high schools in the district. Website: puhsdonline.org Maidu website: maiduonline.org For information: Call Stan Parker (530) 308-6614 or e-mail sparker@puhsd.k12.ca.us