Virtual School Marks First Student Graduation
By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 6, 2012 For students whose parents are in the military or work for the Defense or State departments, sometimes just getting to school is a challenge.
That was the case for Pamela Chavdarova who lives on the Greek island of Crete with her mother, Tanya Taylor, and stepfather, John Taylor, who is posted there as a Defense Department civilian. There are no Defense Department schools in Greece and Chavdarova has epilepsy, which makes school a challenge, John Taylor said.
Pamela was homeschooled for several years, but then she wanted to go to high school with other students her age. With few options, her parents sent her to a private school in Greece’s northern city of Thessaloniki. That lasted two years, but the school was just too far: a 10-hour boat ride from Crete, then a six-hour drive from Athens.
Two years ago, the Taylors found a solution in the Department of Defense Education Activity’s Virtual High School, an Internet-based alternative for Defense Department school students. On June 8, Pamela will cross a stage at the Defense Department’s Alconbury High School in London along with her two Virtual School 2012 classmates, Nichole Marie Delgado, from Valencia, Spain; and Chanelle Jalisa McGriff from Gloucester, England. Their class of three will join the 35 Alconbury graduates in a joint ceremony.
“The virtual school was the answer to our prayers,” Taylor said. Because of Pamela’s medical condition, DODEA offered tutoring, online tools and additional assistance from online teachers as part of the Virtual School, which he said gave her “a unique, one-on-one relationship” with her teachers.
“We could not be happier,” he said. “They bent over backwards to help her get her diploma.”
Pamela, who was born in Bulgaria, excelled in English literature and is interested in pursuing a career in writing or photography. She hopes to go to college in London and will spend three extra days there as a graduation gift.
Terri Marshall, the principal of DODEA Virtual High School, said it took a tiring, full-team effort by staff to get the school, which began in August 2010, accredited.
“It’s been a long road, it’s been a hard road, but it’s wonderful when you see these diplomas and the hard work that brought this to fruition,” she said. “My staff made it happen. My teachers were the driving force.”
The accreditation, Marshall said, “gives us some legitimacy and credibility as a school. For so long, we were seen as a program to supplement other schools.”
The school’s primary focus still is to be a supplement for students who can’t do all their required coursework through a DODEA brick-and-mortar school, Marshall said. For example, she said, many Defense Department school students take classes through the Virtual School that either aren’t offered at their school or they have a scheduling conflict or a medical reason that prevents them from attending.
“We share students at this point,” she said.
The three graduates will receive a standard DODEA diploma that says “DODEA Virtual High School,” Marshall said, and their transcript will be from the Virtual School.
Virtual School teachers work from DODEA schools in Germany and Korea, or at DODEA headquarters in Arlington, Va. They work entirely online or by phone with their students who also have a facilitator for monitoring their progress at their base school, Marshall said.
“This is part of the 21st century of being able to collaborate with people across the world,” Marshall said, adding that students also work in teams with other students.
“Flexibility and teamwork are the big words in our environment,” she said.