Friday, June 27, 2008

“Giving Virtual and On-Line Schools The Respect They Deserve”

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of being the opening speaker for a two-day conference for the Buckeye On-Line School for Success in Ohio. This public school, serving students from 77 of the 88 counties in Ohio, could be a “poster child”, so to speak, for effective distance learning. Opening in the fall of 2005, the school started with several hundred students in grades K-12, and in 2008 expects to educate nearly two thousand students. Randy Calhoun School Director, and remarkable Instructional Leader, is the “dynamo” that told me his staff … “will be the best group of employees you will ever meet”. And, this proud, confident and knowledgeable group proved him right.

BOSS, as most stakeholders refer to it, offers a variety of learning choices from self-paced curriculum options, to a more ‘hands on’ approach through Virtual Classrooms. Using state of the art technology, students are immersed in a real-time classroom setting with both teachers and their peers. BOSS believes this safe and structured learning environment provides students with many opportunities for assistance in weak areas while, at the same time, gives them opportunities for in-depth study and enrichment in areas of strength.

Here are two examples of unique opportunities this public school gives:

Special Education students are never identified to their peers. As special education students participate in their live virtual classes, a certified special education teacher (head set on) is in class with them, but never seen by classmates. They are able to get instant help with issues or content at the moment they need it or, as often the case, they stay connected for review after class. I think this is a brilliant and caring idea.

My second example is a nineteen-year-old Cleveland girl of who dreamed of earning her High School Diploma. As always, staff from the school drove to interview and enroll the eager pregnant girl, this time to Cleveland. And after seeing her, hoped she would stick it out. Once enrolled, she began her classes but the baby came very early and she had to take time off from her dream.
Teachers were thrilled when she returned very quickly to her studies after the birth of the baby, knowing how hard it must be. But her hardships were just beginning. Several weeks after her return, her father died suddenly, which set her back once again. And, unbelievably only weeks later her fiancé (father of her child) was shot and killed.

I believe her dream would have ended here if it weren’t for the caring staff that continued to encourage her, and the technology that allowed her the freedom to work when her baby slept. Unbelievably, she returned to her studies once again, but could not make the timeline for the three-day state tests. Here is where the remarkable staff at BOSS stepped up to make it happen. They received permission from the State of Ohio to administrate the tests to her two weeks later. They drove to Cleveland once again and proctored the tests, then sat back to wait for the results. This strong, and hardworking student passed every test well above minimum competency.

But the story does not end here. The brave student did not have the money to attend her graduation ceremony so the staff chipped in for the hotel room, for her and her mother. And with an extra ordinary act of giving, members drove, for the third time, to Cleveland and brought her to “live her dream”. Through tears, everyone experienced the absolute thrill of her crossing the stage and receiving her diploma.

Visit Buckeye On-Line School for Success at:
Check out their summer reading program with live virtual readers.

Ask Yourself:

• Could our school have made this possible?
• Do I believe students’ will overcome anything to succeed?
• How can I make sure every student who has this dream lives it?
• Could technology help us achieve these goals?
• Do I believe virtual and on-line classes can be as successful, or more successful then my own?