Archive for Thursday, September 15, 2005

Virtual school offers chance for education

District on leading edge of virtual school trend

September 15, 2005

A 16-year-old girl sat with Nicole Williams -- assistant director of the Basehor-Linwood Virtual School -- Tuesday as the two began mapping a course for the teen's return to school.

The teen, a one-time drop out who's had scrapes with the law, was at the school for one reason -- to begin the process of turning her life around.

Her motivation? A 4-month-old bundle of joy perched on her knee.

"Now I know what's important," the girl said while looking at her infant daughter. "I want to get my high school education."

For those seeking a second cha0nce, the waters sometimes don't run deep. Fortunately, a well of opportunity awaits them on the educational front at Basehor-Linwood's Virtual School, a pioneer in on-line education and the first school of its kind in Kansas.

The virtual school, established by district administrators in 1998, offers a high school education to non-traditional students. Home school students, working adults and, like the girl on Tuesday, ex-drop outs seeking educational redemption are just a few of the demographics that make up the school's student body.

"There's a huge population of students that aren't being served," said Brenda De Groot, virtual school director and a maven in on-line education. "They need a place to go. ... They need an education."

Course work for virtual school students is completed via the Internet, and 35 educators, all of whom, for the second consecutive year, work in Basehor-Linwood schools, teach virtual school classes from their computers.

An office at Basehor-Linwood High School, shared among various other school district organizations, serves as the virtual school's nerve center, and it's there that De Groot and her chief lieutenant, Williams, oversee the program and make sure the school's trains run on time.

On-line education, once viewed as a radical and controversial approach to public education, has blossomed into a standard operation for many Kansas districts. Last year, only a handful of the schools existed; this year, 16 new virtual programs opened shop across the state.

De Groot, who's been with the program since its inception, said her program has retained a consistent enrollment even while the market has been saturated with more offerings.

"Right now we're at 355," said De Groot, noting that the number puts the school's enrollment on par with the past several years. "We feel very fortunate because 16 new virtual schools have opened up across Kansas."

Maintaining a consistent enrollment during recent years has steadied the school's ship, but it's other achievements that has De Groot and other administrators smiling.

"All 35 of our teachers are in-house," she said. "We think it's made a big difference in quality."

With the virtual school operation comes plenty of success stories, and De Groot and Williams proudly recount many of them. However, it's the possibility of another student making leaps and bounds that keeps them, as well as faculty and district administrators, striving to offer a better product.

"We've made some of those connections again this year," said De Groot, citing as an example the teen-mom who's primed to be added to the growing list of virtual school pupils who've found greener pastures after completing the program.

"She said, 'I don't want a GED. I want a high school diploma and I'm going to do it.' People like that need a second chance, and they deserve one, too."

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