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Schools: Virtual courses, traditional classrooms

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Students who enroll in online courses this fall in Georgetown County’s high schools will find the virtual classroom looks a lot like the brick and mortar variety. The goal of the program is to expand course offerings, not to let students sit at home in their pyjamas, according to school district officials.

“We can offer more opportunities,” said Patti Hammel, the district’s director of student performance. Foreign languages and Advanced Placement classes are a particular focus, but the online curriculum also includes some core classes. That will aid students who transfer mid-year and students who need to make up classes, she said.

The online classes will also provide a gateway to the so-called STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and math – that the district wants to expand into all grade levels. Along with core math and science classes there is a range of elective classes in subjects such as computer programming and engineering design.

The district expects students will take the classes during the school day. By offering them online, schools can fill a classroom with students taking a variety of subjects.

“Our intent is not to bring you classes you would do at home,” Hammel said.

The school board this week approved a list of 74 courses that will be available online through Fuel Education. The district will fund the courses with money set aside for technology. It will carry those funds over from the current budget, so the online courses won’t impact next year’s budget, Hammel said. The district will pay a flat fee for the courses, which it is currently negotiating, she said.

Board Member Richard Kerr pointed out that it would be possible for a senior to enroll in online AP classes and never show up at school. “We wouldn’t let that happen,” Hammel said.

Like conventional classes, the online classes will provide ongoing reports of student progress. The high schools are developing an application process for the classes. Guidance counselors and administrators will have to approve them. Students will have to explain why they want to take the classes.

Board Member Pat DeLeone said the district needs to create an orientation program for the virtual curriculum for parents and students. “Students think it’s going to be an easy course,” she said. “It’s rigorous. You have to keep up with the work.”

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