ST. MARYS — After seeing a trend in students choosing online learning over traditional classroom learning, a local high school has developed a program where select students have the option of going to school on the web or through a mix of online and traditional classes.
St. Marys Memorial High School Principal Dave Lewis and teacher Dave Huber developed the MHS Virtual Learning Academy this summer, with this school year being the inaugural year for the online program.
“Last year we had, about every month, a handful of kids withdrawing from the district to go to an online program,” Lewis said. “It opened our eyes to the fact that we have students with different educational needs.”
He noted the school strives to “provide as many opportunities as we can,” and officials looked into the option of the online program — Wapakoneta started a similar program for its students last year.
“We started to talk to the county,” Lewis said, noting the Auglaize County Educational Service Center offers the ACE Academy. “We wanted to see if they could provide us with their program — we felt it would be best to partner with them.”
Huber was named the program director of the MHS Virtual Learning Academy, and he prepared for the upcoming school year by being trained through ACE Academy.
“Then, we sat down and brainstormed what kind of program we wanted to have here,” Lewis said. “We’re still learning as we go along.”
The MHS Virtual Learning Academy features a small group of students, who range from sophomores to seniors.
“There are 15 or 16 kids who are full-time — all of their classwork is online,” Lewis said. “There are three to four who have blended courses. They are in the classroom here for some of their courses, and some of their courses are online.”
He added there are five students who are taking one course online.
“Maybe they couldn’t fit a certain course in their schedule because of conflicts,” Lewis said. “In the future, I see more students doing it as more for that reason.”
A lot of the courses offered online, he noted, are courses that are not provided at school — such as a different language course.
“A lot of them are taking something that we don’t offer and they can provide that online,” Lewis said.
The coursework, Huber said, can also include the students’ core courses, such as English, science, math, social studies and government.
“I have students doing art, physical education, personal finance, health,” Huber said.
The students participating in the virtual learning program were chosen through an application process.
“We have an application process,” Lewis noted. “They fill out an application, and I take it to the guidance office and Mr. Cheslock lists the courses they need. In the application, I have them write why they want to do this. I have to OK every student who does this.”
At this point in the school year last year, Lewis noted 10 students had withdrawn. So far this year, the school has had six.
“I sent letters to all the students we lost in the past to online programs,” Lewis said of how he approached the start of the program. “About 10 of them came back. By bringing in this program, they will graduate from MHS and get their diploma from MHS. They will be able to walk with their classmates during graduation, and they can participate in extracurriculars. They just have a different educational option.”
Lewis noted that through other online academies, the students do not receive an actual diploma or a high school degree, which some programs — such as the military — do not accept.
“These are our students who live in our district,” Lewis said.
“If we can’t provide the education they want, we have to look at things to provide that.”
The students who participate in the program are able to come into the school if they need help or to work on their classes.
“If the students do this properly, they may only be here one day a week for a couple hours,” Lewis said, noting when the students are at the school, they work in the virtual learning lab in the building where Huber is stationed.
“Mr. Huber can check their progress online every day. If somebody is not keeping up with their work, he can contact them, and they have to be here. We have students coming in during various hours throughout the day.”
Huber said the virtual learning program teaches the students a variety of skill sets.
“One nice thing about it, is it really teaches them problem solving skills,” he said. “It’s very important that they be more self-reliant in their work ethic.”
Sophomore Mickay Sholler said she does the program because it’s “easier” — something Huber noted the students believe because it fits in more with their lifestyles.
“I can actually work at my own pace,” Sholler said.
Junior Stephen Weigel is doing blended coursework through the virtual learning program — he comes to school for ceramics class and takes algebra and English online.
“I went this way because I missed a lot of school,” Weigel said. “It’s easier to come here later in the afternoon than go to school all day.”
In the future, Lewis said he would like to have the district’s own program — where they are not relying on the ESC’s resources.
“That way our teachers could do their coursework online,” he said. “Right now, we’re working very well with the county, and they’ve helped us a great deal.”
Lewis noted the program has been positive so far.
“It’s been a great addition,” he said. “It’s brought kids back to the district.”