The summer school session underway at Gloucester High School has 86 students enrolled, but more than half of them are not showing up at the GHS campus. Instead, 49 students have opted to attend remotely, completing their lessons at home via the internet and a connection to their online Apex Learning course curricula.
Wendy Wyatt, a former GHS Spanish teacher who is now serving as the coordinator of online learning for Gloucester Public Schools, is overseeing the summer session. Wyatt has administrative certification, and previously headed a pilot online offering for GHS students who needed additional courses for credit recovery.
Wyatt said 70 percent of the students in the pilot offering were successful with their online learning. "Our SOL scores were good, too. A lot of them really gravitated to the self-pace," she said. Of those who were not successful, she added, "some students would rather have had the structure."
The summer session is for students retaking classes because they need the credits for graduation. The online course selections include earth science, biology, world and U.S. history, algebra I and II, geometry, government and English 9, 10 and 11. Students taking English 12 are attending traditional classroom sessions due to their added need to complete a senior boards project, which is part of the GHS English 12 curriculum.
The students taking their courses online have the choice of working at home or using a computer lab at GHS. "I expected to have a large amount who wanted to take advantage of working from home," Wyatt said of the number of students who took the remote option. The online students, whether at home or at school, are expected to log in to their courses daily Tuesday through Friday and complete at least four hours of work, or eight hours if they are taking two classes.
The summer session only includes 20 instructional days, from July 6 through Aug. 6, so Wyatt has developed a timeline for the courses to help the online students stay on track to complete the coursework on time. The Apex system allows her to monitor each student’s progress, daily if needed. "If a student is not keeping up, the privilege to do the work remotely will be rescinded," Wyatt explained. "With only 20 days, we will be moving at a quick pace."
Once students log on to their courses, they can read the lesson or have it read to them (the students wear headphones in the computer lab). The lessons are not all text, but include video clips or other multi-media to demonstrate or highlight content.
Each lesson also has worksheets that are used as study guides and there is a practice test after each lesson. If a student gets hung up on a lesson, there are three teachers on hand, along with Wyatt, to help them get over the hump. The online students at home can call or e-mail the instructors for assistance.
A quiz ends the lesson and a score of 80 percent or better allows the student to move forward to the next lesson. Students may retake the quiz if they are not successful the first time. "There is a lot of privacy. No one knows how many times a student takes a quiz," said school division assessment director Lora Price, who has assisted Wyatt in setting up the virtual summer school. "They don’t feel defeated if they don’t pass it the first time," Wyatt added. "That helps to reduce the anxiety level."
Although the Virginia Department of Education has some online offerings in its Virtual Virginia curriculum, most are advanced or honors courses, or foreign language or other electives that many school divisions do not have the resources to offer. Price said the Apex system also originally offered only AP courses but has expanded to a wider curriculum.
The school division has been using Apex for remediation, homebound students and in its regional alternative school. "It’s not watered down, and we can also add content," Price noted. Wyatt said the Apex course content not only meets the teacher’s needs, but also appeals to students and keeps their interest.
"We’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be exciting," Wyatt said before the online courses got underway last week. "I think it will go very well. The online curriculum expands the ways we can meet their needs. Students have really responded to it. It seems to appeal to a wide range, maybe not to everyone, but not just to the achievement motivated."
"Teachers are still the most crucial part of instruction. We’re not suggesting online courses should be done without a teacher," Price said. Standing by to assist the virtual students are English teacher Jonathan Bliss, social studies teacher Kent LaRoque and mathematics teacher Jacqui Riva. Michelle Waravdekar is teaching the English 12 class and Tony Childress is leading an English class for selected rising freshmen.