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Systems online: East Rowan’s virtual academy accepting applications for 2020-2021 year

SALISBURY — Online classes have been available at colleges and universities for years, and now East Rowan High School is making online instruction to high schoolers a part of its new Virtual Academy.

The new program is part of East Rowan’s renewal plans, and will be available for up to 200 students next school year. The program will be available to all Rowan County high schoolers. Applications, which will include a self-assessment inventory, essay and an interview, are open until March 20. The classes are online, but they work much like a standard course taught in a classroom. Educators at East Rowan will be teaching the contents of the classes, taking them on as part of their schedule as they would any other class, and making themselves available to students.

“We are not going to contract out through an online resource or program, so they will still be taught by a certified teacher that is actually in our building,” Principal Tonya German said. “That would just become one of their classrooms. That will help to ensure that it is aligned with the standards that we need to meet and that they’re receiving what they need in order to graduate with a North Carolina high school diploma.”

Students in the program full-time will be students at East Rowan, too. They can come to the school to meet with teachers, study and perform work in schools. Teachers may request to meet with students who are struggling or bring in groups for sessions.

“If you get too far behind or you’re not showing proficiency, they come in and meet with them,” German said.

Students also will be able to sign up for sessions where all students are online at once and interacting with each other in real time, like they would in a traditional classroom.

There will also be a hybrid program where students can take some classes online and some in the traditional setting. German said this is a good option for students who may want or need to take some classes online but have certain classes that cannot be offered that way. A student may want to take a hands-on class like masonry or carpentry, which do not transfer well to the online setting, but German said a student will be able to take all the classes they need to graduate from high school online via the academy.

East Rowan already has been a test bed for the online schooling idea, running a pilot program for juniors and seniors that allowed them to take online versions of the same courses they would have had in a traditional classroom. Students had the option to take history and English classes online or face-to-face. A few classes in other subject areas were also offered.

German said students may want to take classes online for several reasons. Some may prefer it to a traditional setting, or they may want or need the schedule flexibility that comes with not having a specific meeting time.

“Some of our students have been able to do internships throughout the day while they still do their classes,” German said.

One student who wants to become a doctor has been able to volunteer at medical offices thanks to the online classes, she said.

The classes are also an opportunity for other students to finish high school. A student may have a child to care for or need to work to support a family and not be able to attend classes otherwise.

“It’s not cumbersome. It’s not a big hindrance to anybody, but it also is not for every student,” German said. “Some of our students who tried it this year, midway through went ‘this is not for me, I thought I might could handle it.’ We put them back in the classroom.”

German said there have been no problems moving students back to the traditional setting this year.

Senior Sarah Johnson is taking several classes online, including an AP English class. Johnson said she liked the idea of taking classes online because she could set her own pace and it has given her the opportunity to do more at the school.

“It’s a lot more flexible,” Johnson said.

Athena Thomas, another senior who is taking high-level classes online, said she likes how she can pick and choose which assignments to do first.

“In general, it’s just being able to provide the kids what they need, what they’re looking for,” Teacher Chad Mitchell said. “There’s so much competition, even in the public education sector now. I think we have to be willing to adapt to what families and kids are looking for.”

Mitchell said numbers show there is a desire by students to have this option.

“I think as we look towards next year, I don’t see that declining,” Mitchell said. “I guess I sort of see it as something that is going to increase as time goes on.”

Mitchell said he believes the pilot program at East Rowan has gone well, adding the classes often help students who struggle opening up and interacting in the classroom but feel more confident participating in discussion boards.

“We’re able to personalize a good bit more in the online setting,” Mitchell said.

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