Virtual Learning Offers Missouri Students Many Paths to Graduation
The director of a virtual learning center shares how she customizes coursework for students, no matter what their academic ability or history.
By Leigh Shoup
Carthage is a small town located in the southwestern part of Missouri. The town may be small--around 15,000--but it is rich with history, tradition, and pride. Carthage's hometown spirit cannot be matched. The Carthage R-9 School District serves approximately 4,530 K-12 students on ten campuses: five elementary schools, a middle school, a junior high, a high school and a technical center in two locations. Our study body is 61% white and 33% Hispanic, and about 62% of our students free or reduced breakfasts and lunches.
I am the director of the Virtual Learning Center (VLC) and Missouri Options program for the Carthage R9 School System. The VLC serves Carthage students in grades 9-12. Missouri Options, a part of the VLC, is a state-organized program that allows students who cannot graduate the traditional way an opportunity to graduate with their class and receive a regular high school diploma. We are not on the main high school campus because some students feel more at ease working outside the traditional classroom environment. Our staff consists of two full-time instructors, one part-time instructor, and me.
Learning Any Time, at Any Pace
Students may take any of the 108 classes we offer during any block. They can start a class at any time during the school year, and we give them up to 18 weeks to complete the class. They can work at their own pace, and can even be allotted more time by their counselors and administrators. Students can earn more than ½ credit per semester, per block. If they are behind in credits, they can get caught up with our help. Students can also graduate early through the VLC--we have many junior graduates.
Students with scheduling issues are able to come to VLC or work from other locations to get the classes they need. The VLC can help with the balancing of classes at the high school when needed, and we also assist transfer students whose schedules from their sending school do not match the high school's offerings. The VLC is also a perfect program for homebound students.
The VLC serves students with a variety of academic abilities. In the same class, sitting side-by-side, you can find the valedictorian and the person ranked last in their class. Because we use the Odysseyware program, which is is aligned with Missouri State Standards, we are able to customize classes for the learning disabled and English language learners--or create our own classes for students in third through 12th grade.
Instructors are able to work with students one-on-one, as needed, without disrupting the pace of other students. Because of the way we have designed our classroom, we are able to have daily team meetings to discuss, target, and prevent student failure.
This is our second year of using Odysseyware, and we couldn't be more thrilled to have it. Our students love it, too. I believe the next step for the VLC is to expand so that we can help even more students reach their goal of graduation.
Succeeding One Student at a Time
I will end with a story. We often have students that have not been successful in the traditional, seated classroom. This generation has grown up with computers and technology everywhere, so they are quite comfortable in--and even oftentimes prefer--our classroom and method of learning. There was one boy in particular who I will call "Joe." Joe was a special needs student, and hadn't often found school to be a rewarding place to be. Through our program, however, and because of Odysseyware, we were able to tailor a class especially for him. It was at a level that best served his learning level and learning needs.
We here at the VLC meet with each and every student once a week to discuss their progress and to address potential problems when necessary. We use this time to encourage students as well; we call it our "weekly progress report." It was during one of these meetings that we praised Joe for the progress he was able to make. The smile that spread across his face was pure joy. He had finally found success at school; he had done a good job. The pride that he felt was obvious.
I also greet the bus each block to welcome our students back to class. Joe greets me with a smile each time he gets off the bus now. He seems happy to be here, and it is all because the Odysseyware program enabled me to provide the type of education that every student is entitled to--one that meets their individual needs.
Leigh Shoup is the director of the Virtual Learning Center (VLC) and Missouri Options program for the Carthage R9 School System. She has been in education for 27 years and administration for 13 years.