The online revolution is gaining momentum in school districts across the United States and there are a number of delivery models that are being implemented successfully. For some districts, like Ephrata School District in Pennsylvania, their online school, the Ephrata Virtual Academy, is a companion institution to the physical school and students can move seamlessly between the two systems based on need.
For others, like Gwinnett County, Georgia, their online campus is a fully autonomous charter school for high school students within the district. With 15 years of experience, there’s much that can be learned from Gwinnett County’s model of delivering online curriculum.
First and foremost, Gwinnett online school principal Christopher Ray stresses that students enrolled in the online program are held accountable to the same standards as students who attend school in physical buildings. In a recent interview in the Juvenile Justice Exchange, Principal Ray was also quick to point out that many of the students who are most interested in attending school online are highly motivated learners who “have goals in life, that want to achieve them and they engage in their community.” Often times, these are students who are pursuing other activities who require time and place flexibility in completing their coursework and tests.
Perhaps one of the most enriching aspects of online education is the opportunity for students to pursue curriculum opportunities that might not be offered in a physical location because of funding or resource constraints. Two areas that online schools often address are gaps in AP® course offerings and gaps in world language programs. These types of opportunities become particularly important in high-achieving communities like Gwinnett County where there is additional pressure on students to graduate from high school with a significant amount of advanced coursework.
So, how do schools join the online revolution? As Principal Ray noted, now that Gwinnett County’s program has demonstrated a certain degree of success, surrounding counties including Cobb, Fulton, and Forsyth have expressed interest in offering personalized learning options. Larger school districts often experiment with designing, developing, and delivering an online curriculum from in-house sources. While this works in some cases, the pain points of developing a fully customizable curriculum quickly become overwhelming and can lead to teacher and administrator burn out. One alternative is to work with a curriculum partner that not only develops the instructional materials in line with state standards, but also provides the instructors, and back-end tech and administrative support.
In the end, however, the most important element of online learning is student success. Whether the student is recovering credit to achieve an on-time graduation, looking for flexible scheduling to accommodate an emerging career in the arts, or extending their knowledge through AP® classes, there is so much to be gained from a school district expanding their options with online learning.