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Virtual school offers extra opportunities

On any given day, students at Elmwood High School are studying subjects such as German, oceanography and psychology. Impressive, considering the high school has only 213 students.

Virtual school offers extra opportunities

On any given day, students at Elmwood High School are studying subjects such as German, oceanography and psychology. Impressive, considering the high school has only 213 students.

More impressive is the fact that Elmwood is able to offer these courses without hiring any additional teachers. Illinois Virtual School, located in Edwards, provides these courses, plus about 100 more, all for a semester cost of $250 per student.

Key Points

• Illinois Virtual School offers more than 100 online courses.

• For rural schools, it’s a great way to enhance course offerings.

• For more information, check out www.ilvirtual.org.

“As rural schools attempt to do more with less, Illinois Virtual School can really supplement their core offerings,” notes Cindy Hamblin, Illinois Virtual School director.

Hamblin explains that the concept of online learning for high schools has been around for nearly a decade. However, the Illinois State Board of Education shook things up last year.

Initially, online courses were offered under the auspices of ISBE. Since then, ISBE has shifted the program into private education providers, such as Illinois Virtual School, or IVS. Last year, the program was expanded to include fifth through 12th grades.

Opportunistic learning

In utilizing IVS, many schools are adopting a model similar to Elmwood High School. In Elmwood, students can choose from IVS’ catalog of more than 100 courses. The school has a computer lab in a corner of the library where students spend an hour with their chosen subject. Rusty Koll acts as moderator.

“I’m here to offer assistance and make sure the technology is working correctly,” Koll notes. Come test time, Koll can act as a proctor at the teacher’s request.

Koll says the four foreign language offerings represent a good portion of student interest.

“We have one student who’s taking German through the virtual school,” he notes. “Her grandfather actually emigrated to the U.S. from Germany. They’re now able to converse in his native language.”

In some cases, IVS provides an opportunity for students to simply scratch an educational itch. Even though she’ll be attending dental school next fall, Elmwood senior Chelsea McCance is taking psychology this semester.

Matthew Koll, a junior at Elmwood, is fulfilling a basic science requirement with a course on oceanography. “I just thought it would be more interesting than a basic science,” he says.

System requirements

As high-speed Internet access becomes commonplace in rural Illinois, Hamblin expects more schools will utilize IVS to cut costs and expand course offerings.

To partner with IVS, Hamblin says the school must provide several basics. First, it is responsible for the technology and Internet access.

“The coursework utilizes a variety of media, such as text, video, simulations and hands-on labs,” Hamblin notes.

Second, the school must designate a registrar to approve students’ course requests. This ensures students can handle the course, plus it facilitates the actual course credit.

Hamblin explains that IVS can only provide a grade and completion note for the course. Thus, the school must certify credit for transcript purposes. Therefore, Hamblin highly recommends parents contact their local school if they would like to take advantage of IVS’ services.

The school is also responsible for the $250 fee. This fee covers all coursework and any course materials, which are provided by IVS. The actual expense for each course is much higher. Hamblin notes expenses are covered by the fee and the appropriation from the Illinois State Board of Education. Even though IVS bills the school directly, some districts choose to have individual students foot the cost of the course, and then pass the money on to IVS.

Virtual school facts

• Illinois Virtual School foreign language offerings include French, German, Latin and Spanish.

• Rare course tracks include business and economics, fine arts, and career planning.

• IVS offers two dual credit courses (calculus) in conjunction with the University of Illinois.

• IVS employs 70 part-time teachers and one full-time teacher.

• Teachers are available for office hours via virtual chat sessions.

• Coursework typically takes one hour per day, five days a week.

• Advanced placement courses are available.

• IVS partners with public, private and home-school institutions.


SCRATCHING AN ITCH: Nearly 20 Elmwood High School students utilized Illinois Virtual School services this year. That’s nearly 10% of the student body. Here, Matthew Koll studies oceanography, while Chelsea McCance learns psychology.


MORE WITH LESS: Cindy Hamblin, Illinois Virtual School director, says many rural schools use their services to enhance course offerings without enhancing the budget.

This article published in the March, 2010 edition of PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.

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