Online Classes Gaining in Grade Schools
In a time where state education budgets are slashed and administrators cannot hire teachers, some schools and even parents are enrolling in full-time virtual schools.
Molokai High School (MHS) takes advantage of newly available online course to offer classes they couldn’t otherwise. MHS does not offer foreign language or advanced placement classes, said Principal Stan Hao.
Through the Department of Education’s virtual learning network, the high school offers French, Spanish, Japanese, AP World History and U.S. History, according to registrar Julia DeGeorge. The classes are provided by Myron B. Thompson Academy, the state’s “e-charter” school.
“More and more courses in college are in online format; you have to be able to navigate technology to be able to be successful in college these days,” DeGeorge said.
A Growing Trend
Virtual classrooms are becoming more common place across the country. A study in 2007 conducted by the Sloan Consortium, a non-profit organization to improve online education, found nearly two-thirds of public schools are offering online courses, and 700,000 K-12 students were enrolled in one or more online courses in 2005-06.
Aka`ula School also offers online classes to its students, and will be offering virtual school for its high school students when it expands next school year.
Lei Ah Loy, a teacher and accreditation coordinator at Aka`ula, found that offering live core classes, such as language arts and science, combined with online courses, such as foreign languages and higher math, would keep the cost of tuition down for the private school students.
“What we’re doing is called blended school,” she said, “blending” the benefits of online and on-site learning. “What that means is students have the liberty to study online courses based on their schedules…[but] face-to-face contact with their peers and instructor is not totally lost.”
Educators agree that the social aspect of school is important to retain. Aka`ula’s high school schedule will require three days a week on-site, with a teaching coach, and two days where they are free to attend their online classes from home.
The downside, experienced by students frequently, is the capacity of Molokai’s broadband infrastructure. Sometimes, when the internet is not working or working slowly, classes are difficult to access.
MHS sophomore Michael Kikukawa is taking his second year of French online, but said he is often frustrated by the lack of assistance.
“It’s harder learning online…because immediate help isn’t available,” he said. “It’s especially hard to learn a new language online; you’re not hearing the language as much.”
DeGeorge said the online classes are grouped together in one classroom, so some students may be taking history while others learn French, but there is always a teacher present as a facilitator, to help with technical problems and make sure the students stay on task.
Online schools are also a way to offer an accredited system for homeschooling.
Alicia Montemayor looked at online schools when her son, Hawi, had bullying issues at Kualapu`u School. She decided to skip enrolling him at a middle school and found Halau Kokahi, an accredited charter school that provides classes online. The school is free for families of Hawaiian ancestry through a grant from Kamehameha Schools.
“He gets to work at his own pace and schedule,” Montemayor said, who acts as his academic coach. She said she’s noticed working on his own allows Hawi to focus better.
Halau Lokahi is entirely virtual to Hawi – he watches lectures, video chats with his teacher who is based on Oahu, and reads the textbooks online. He is taking seventh grade math, reading, language arts, physical education and history classes. As a part of physical education class, he frequently helps out on the family farm.
However, Hawi said he misses his friends.
“I prefer regular school, [because] even if I get picked on, I have friends,” he said. Montemayor added that she will be enrolling Hawi at Molokai High School when he reaches ninth grade, and is considering enrolling her younger daughter, Anela, in Halau Lokahi as well.
“I recommend [online school]; there are a lot of kids out there that need parental supervision,” she said. “If [parents] can do it, it’s good; some kids want to move up in surfing, this allows them the time to do other things.”