By MAUREEN O’HARA
Capital News Service
LANSING — Students in Clintondale Community Schools are now able to take classes in their pajamas.
It isn’t because of a new dress code in the southern Macomb County district, but rather a new outlet for education: the virtual school.
Launched in January 2001 after two years of preparation, Clintondale Virtual High School offers Internet courses designed for all types of students, ranging from traveling athletes to home-school students.
Bill Britt, chief executive officer of Clintondale Virtual, praises the new format for its easy access and availability to a large number of students.
“Unlike other schools, it’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Britt said. “It’s proved to be an advantage for those students who cannot fit the classes into their schedule.”
Britt attributes the majority of enrollment to “credit recovery.” Those are classes that a student has previously taken, but may not have passed or received credit. Basic computer skills are needed for the virtual classes, as well as a knowledge of how to create and save a computer file.
The curriculum of CVHS is “fundamentally the same” as the regular program, according to Britt, but the main difference is instruction. Submitting test answers and essays online eliminates the face-to-face interaction that Britt believes deters some students from participating in class.
“We are finding that in quite a few cases, the relationship between the student and teacher is actually stronger,” Britt said. “There is a certain amount of anonymity involved, and students can write what they might not say out loud.”
Using chat rooms, e-mail and discussion boards, the school’s teachers can demonstrate math problems or use the Web to show students a link to a different site.
The teachers vary in background, ranging from retired professionals who wish to “stay connected,” to stay-at-home moms who need another stream of revenue. They are state-of-Michigan certified as well as subject area-certified, Britt said.
“The students are more comfortable learning different things,” he said. “They like the fact that they can ask questions that only the teacher can see. They don’t need to worry about their peer relationships.”
While Clintondale draws students who need to recover credits, the Michigan Virtual High School attracts those who seek to supplement classes into their daily schedule.
In July 2000, the Legislature agreed to fund the statewide school for a three-year period under the operation of the Michigan Virtual University. It does not grant diplomas, credits or transcripts, but is a supplemental resource that offers courses to students via the Internet.
This fall, 123 schools and 21 home schools will participate in the virtual program. The Michigan Department of Education sets guidelines for virtual enrollment, allowing each student to take up to two virtual classes per semester of their regular high school schedule.
The virtual classes are a part of the students’ regular schedule and are generally paid for by the individual school. Part of the cost may be passed onto parents, but this remains a local decision.
Deborah White, director of communications and public relations of the Michigan Virtual High School, contends that the online courses are a complementary program, not a replacement for the regular school setting.
“We are collaborating with the schools and teachers,” White said. “It’s not minimizing their experience all that much.”
Unlike Clintondale, Michigan Virtual draws the majority of students to its Advanced Placement program, according to White. In addition to AP, students with scheduling conflicts and those in need of core courses choose the school to supplement credits for their regular curriculum.
In only its second year, Michigan Virtual helped 92 percent of its AP enrolled students receive a grade allowing them to obtain college credit. Before the program, only 65 percent of Michigan’s students achieved that score, a statistic that shows the importance of virtual learning, according to Tom Schumann, vice president of academic affairs for MVHS.
“Our program helps to demystify the AP test,” he said. “It saves the students from test anxiety and gets them ready to peak in their subject area.”
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By MAUREEN O’HARA