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Schools: Officials urge caution as students sign up for online classes

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Students at Waccamaw High have started signing up for online classes less than a week after the virtual curriculum was approved by the Georgetown County Board of Education. But although there is interest in the expanded list of AP and technology classes, school officials said students and parents need to be cautious.

“You have to decide, subject by subject, does it meet your child’s needs,” WHS principal David Hammel said at an orientation program this week.

The district adopted an online curriculum from Fuel Education, a national firm, based on a recommendation from the principals of its four high schools. It includes core classes in English, math, science and social studies along with electives in the so-called STEM subjects. Those electives mesh with traditional classes that the district will introduce next year in middle and high schools for science, technology, engineering and math.

The online curriculum includes 15 Advanced Placement classes and classes in German, Latin, Japanese and Mandarin. “It’s another way we can diversify learning opportunities for our students,” Hammel said.

“It sounds pretty cool,” said Sage Blaylock, a junior, who was among the group of about 60 students and parents at the orientation. She had already signed up for classes for her senior year, but expected to change her schedule to include at least one online class. AP environmental science was one that appealed to her.

Another reason principals support the concept is that many colleges require undergraduates to take a least one online class. Katie Ball, another junior at the meeting, said that was why she was interested. “It’s something to consider,” she said, with an eye on the legal studies elective.

Hammel said students will be limited to two online classes. And in response to a parent’s question said students who register for online classes won’t be able to transfer to a traditional class if they don’t like it or are struggling. “We would not want them to hop back and forth,” he said.

Alyssa Graham, a guidance counselor, said several students have already registered and she has fielded questions about the online classes. AP is a particular focus.

“It’s going to be a learning experience,” said Sharon Bray, a science teacher. “You have to be very self-motivated.”

Hammel admitted he would not have been a candidate for online classes when he was in school, a statement confirmed later by his mother, Patti Hammel, the district’s director of student performance. David Hammel said he didn’t have the ability to focus.

Although the classes are available 24/7, students will take them in the school’s computer lab. Depending on the subject, they will be supervised by certified Waccamaw teachers or a facilitator, with the teachers available online from Fuel Education. Students can work at home and the classes are accessible by smartphone. That aspect of online classes provides an opportunity for homebound students. For those who need remedial work, the classes will be available before and after school, Hammel said.

The core classes will follow national curricula, and he cautioned that could provide problems in subjects where South Carolina requires an end-of-course exam. That’s used to measure school performance and counts as 20 percent of the grade. It’s possible online courses may not cover all the material on the state test.

“My recommendation to all students would be to pick an area of strength” to tryout the online classes, Hammel said.

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