Archive for Thursday, September 4, 2003

Virtual School blazes way for technology

September 4, 2003

(Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part series examining the Basehor-Linwood Virtual School.)

At one time, the state of technology in the Basehor-Linwood School District seemed as antiquated as the district schools themselves. Students crowded into dusty computer labs, waiting in line to write term papers on the few terminals available.

The Internet was still in the embryonic stage of the societal giant it would later become, and wireless technology was barely adequate for home telephones let alone computer services.

But what's past is prologue, as the saying goes. The school district now features newer, more modern, updated facilities and the technological services and capabilities to match. Computer labs are modernized, wireless labs are present in every school and students have access to the Internet for class assignments and research.

The school district became wired.

A pioneer in that technological upswing was the Basehor-Linwood Virtual School -- an alternative education program that enrolls home school and at-risk students, offering classes via the Internet.

The school, founded in 1998, has been an instructor for the district, paving the way for an easier transition between teachers and technology, essentially helping teachers find more practical, everyday uses for the technology they're now equipped with. Each teacher in the district is equipped with a computer for teaching purposes, labs are bigger and better equipped, and a technological service team is employed to monitor services.

"We have the technology now," Virtual School director Brenda De Groot said. "How do we get teachers to use it? What do you do with it, instead of using a computer as a typewriter?

"How do we incorporate technology into education?"

Initially, the charter school faculty included eight school district teachers, all of whom taught classes using the Internet. Those teachers became well versed in technology, using it to teach, test and correspond with students. Now, there are 32 school district teachers who also serve as Virtual School faculty members.

Their knowledge and fluency in technology has trickled down to other teachers.

"Those teachers became mentors to other teachers in the school district," De Groot said.

The presence of the Virtual School also allows the district to stay on the cutting edge of technological advancements. For a school based on computers rather than chalkboards, it's only practical to continually update equipment.

If it's good for the Virtual School, it's good for the school district at large, school officials said.

The Virtual School has also aided teachers in testing: many teachers now offer on-line tests, which could become the medium in which state assessments are administered in the future.

"Testing is hard for some kids," De Groot said. "The more (students) are accustomed to on-line testing, the more it will help scores."

With an annual enrollment of 350 students, the Virtual School generates approximately $1.3 million in revenue. Just 15 students from Basehor are enrolled in the program this year, so money from other cities and school districts are being funneled into Basehor-Linwood.

Funds procured from the Virtual School are placed in the general fund and distributed throughout the district. Basically, what's good for the Virtual School is good for the district, De Groot said.

A key goal for the Virtual School this year is to promote more public awareness. De Groot said school officials welcome any questions from the public interested in learning more about the school and its functions.

"We welcome that," the director said. "Come by and see exactly what we're doing. I think visitors would be impressed."

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