Archive for Thursday, May 19, 2005

Virtual school expanding offerings

May 19, 2005


Virtual school will become a reality for high school students next fall as the Lawrence school district expands its online options.

The move helps the district meet students' diverse needs in new ways, Lawrence Virtual School Principal Gary Lewis said.

Officials anticipate about 30 full-time students will enroll at Lawrence Virtual School, 2145 La.

But that figure might be a bit modest, Supt. Randy Weseman said.

"I would say that's probably low," Weseman said. "You have to plan for something. When you're kicking off a new program like this, you have to start smaller."

The school opened last fall with online classes for elementary students. Before its start, officials expected 30 students. They enrolled more than 150.

Since then, Lewis has traveled around the state recruiting students. If numbers are higher than expected, the district will look at the availability of teachers and resources.

"The program is capped ... by our ability to provide services," Weseman said.

The virtual school's expansion comes at a time when Lawrence Alternative High School is closing. But Weseman said the alternative school program was not over.

"I didn't close anything," he said. "I changed the delivery of those services."

He said the district has changed the program to reach more students. Lawrence Virtual School is one way the district is providing an educational alternative for students, he said.

Lawrence Virtual School will add about 50 courses for students in grades nine through 12.

Offerings include: English, Science Fiction in Literature and Film, Creative Writing, Algebra, Biology, SAT Prep, Latin, Spanish and Music History.

Lawrence High School junior Laura Wilson said she liked the virtual school idea.

"It'd be really helpful for kids," she said.

Lewis said eight students have signed up so far to take the full-time workload of six classes. He said he did not have figures yet on students in regular high school students who will take one or a few courses.

The school is an option open to students statewide.

"I see it meeting a lot of different needs, said Jana Lloyd, a De Soto teacher who will be an education specialist at the middle and high school level in the fall. "It's just another way to educate children. If we can have one that works, that's great."

Students attend for a variety of reasons. They may be home-schooled or attend a private school. They may have scheduling conflicts and need to fit in a class.

Online courses can be accommodating for students with medical issues. And they can assist those who want to accelerate through school or retake a class.

"It's the idea that learning can occur anywhere," Lewis said.

Online course teachers have the same qualifications as those in regular high schools.

And full-time students can play sports. The school is teaming up with Veritas Christian School to provide full-time Lawrence Virtual School students an opportunity to participate in Veritas' competitive athletics.

Lawrence Virtual School students can participate in activities at regular schools, but they can't be a part of competitions because of Kansas State High School Activities Assn. rules.

Students in the Lawrence district who take classes as part of their normal schedule will not pay an additional fee.

If students take a class beyond their regular schedule, they'll have to pay, though a rate hasn't been set, Lewis said. The average in the state is between $250 and $350 per course, he said.

Virtual schools may not be for everyone. The concept doesn't appeal to LHS junior Sydney Georgie.

"I like to be around people," she said. "Being online would be kind of boring for me."

Katlyn Conroy, a sophomore at LHS, said she thought the offerings were a cool, new thing, but online learning has drawbacks. Conroy said she wondered whether students would be motivated to attend regular schools if they knew they could take classes online.

"It's a good idea, if they don't get out of control," she said.

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