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Education: Over half of WHS students in online classes

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

There are 578 students taking online classes this year in the Georgetown County School District’s first venture into virtual education. Of those, 465 are at Waccamaw High. And one is taking five of his six courses in his senior year online.

“It’s perfect for me,” said Patrick Sullivan. He needs two half-credit classes in government and economics to meet the graduation requirements. He’s taking two Advanced Placement economic classes online, micro- and macro-economics, AP U.S. government, German and Mandarin Chinese. He is also talking a fourth year of Spanish in a traditional class.

“I want to be some sort of business major,” Sullivan said. “A lot of the business world involves having a second language.”

The online courses are among 74 provided by Fuel Education, a Virginia-based firm. The district approved subjects that expand the current curriculum into languages and science as well as give students online access to core subjects. The goal was to get 150 to 175 students enrolled, said Hunter Eddy, a social studies teacher who is now in charge of the Warrior Virtual Online Academy. He wound up with about 350 in online classes and another 100 or so in courses that blend online and traditional instruction.

The school has 34 laptop computers set up in a room that was wired as its first technology lab in 1998. Although the school added capacity to its network, the room has a single wireless connection that can only handle 10 computers. The rest are plugged in to internet connections along the walls. “We were able to beg, borrow and steal some extra tables,” said assistant principal Adam George.

Sullivan sat in the last seat of a row of laptops in the virtual academy last week for his first lesson in Mandarin. When the school district adopted an online curriculum earlier this year, school officials urged students to choose their classes carefully. Once they sign up, they can’t drop the class. Sullivan said he didn’t do much checking into Mandarin, but with China a major force in the global economy he felt it would help to understand the language. “You just have to tough through it,” he said. “I’m going in cold.”

He thinks the mix of Romance, Germanic and Sino-Tibetan language families in his self-designed curriculum will help him avoid confusion.

Sullivan could take the AP government class in a classroom, but the virtual class also fits with his schedule as a competitive swimmer. He’s currently ranked third among the state’s college prospects by College Swimming. When he has to leave early for practices with his swim club in Mount Pleasant, he can complete the online work at home. If he has free time, he can get ahead on his classwork. The online courses allow students to set their own pace. Sullivan said he may be able to fit two levels of German into his final year at Waccamaw. “You have to have the will and desire,” he said.

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