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Virtual classes offer more choices

May 01, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY, MD. - When the first classroom bell rings, Williamsport High School Senior Phil Taylor knows he has an hour to finish a Physics II assignment.

After turning on his stereo and logging onto the Internet, Taylor pulls the cap off a dry-erase marker and begins writing formulas on the white board that hangs in the back of the school's computer lab.

Taylor, 17, is participating in Washington County Public School's Virtual High School pilot program, which began this semester. It enables county students to take classes over the Internet that they would not have the opportunity to take at their schools.

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Taylor is taking college-level courses to prepare for a future in engineering. He said the program helps him set goals.

He works alone in the school computer lab or outside his former physics instructor's room. He concentrates better by himself, he said, but tries to ask his physics teacher questions at least once or twice a day.

Williamsport High Principal John Davidson said the Virtual High School program is ideal for students like Taylor who are self-motivated and independent.

He said he has had some problems adjusting the program's eight students, the school's marking periods and Washington County Board of Education policy to the rules of the Internet classroom.

The Internet courses are graded only once a semester, but there are three marking periods a semester at each high school, he said. That creates some problems figuring out report cards, he said.

The School Board has a policy that bars students from using e-mail during school, but that has been lifted for students in The Virtual High School.

"We need to find out what we need to change and what we don't need to change," he said.

Davidson said the pilot program is funded entirely by federal grants. The Maryland State Department of Education, seeks out online learning services that will tie to the school system's curriculum, he said.

The courses run about $500 per student, he said, and wondered, "How are we going to pay for the courses when the grant is no longer there?"

He said the program will run as a pilot at least through the fall 2003 semester.

Thirteen Maryland counties are using The Virtual High School program, he said.

Advanced Placement classes of physics II, calculus, United States government, literature, macroeconomics, microeconomics, computer science and statistics were originally offered to students for 2003 spring semester scheduling, Davidson said.

Advanced Placement classes are courses taught on a college freshman level. Students take an Advanced Placement test in high school to determine whether their class credits can be used toward their college degrees.

Taylor, along with five students from North Hagerstown High School, is taking Advanced Placement physics II. One Williamsport High student is taking Advanced Placement government and another Williamsport High student is taking Advanced Placement microeconomics.

Charlotte Trout, physics teacher at the school, said each of the Virtual High School students was required to finish six hours of lab work for their online courses.

Taylor, who said he was raised around engines, said he realizes now that trying to gain experience through trial and error can get expensive. Learning physics will save him money, he said.

"You've got to do things right the first time," he said.

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