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Family Matters Blog: Virtual High School Keeps Students on Track

By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 2, 2010 – I wish today's technology was around when I was a kid. I find it difficult to recall how I lived without my smartphone or laptop or digital recording devices. I especially can't fathom how I made it so long without the Internet.

Aside from my personal entertainment, it's amazing what a vast difference technology has made on every front, from medicine to science to humanitarian efforts.

Technology has been particularly beneficial for our military families in this decade of war. Deployed servicemembers can Skype, instant message and Facebook their loved ones, bridging vast distances, both physically and emotionally.

Defense Department officials now are working to integrate these advances in technology into the classroom, and leverage them to the benefit of military children and youth.

To this end, the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) has opened a new virtual high school this year, which I wrote about in my American Forces Press Service article, "Virtual High School Opens 'Doors' to Learning." The school is an accredited distance-learning program for military students, whether they're geographically separated, transitioning between schools or just dealing with a scheduling conflict.

The virtual school offers students 48 online courses in a wide range of disciplinary areas, including foreign language, math, science, social studies, language arts and physical education, as well as 15 advanced placement courses. The school also is equipped to offer English as a second language and special education, Patricia Riley, chief of the activity's distance learning and virtual school, told me in a recent interview.

The school is designed primarily for students eligible to attend a Defense Department school but are living in remote locations, Riley said. Most attend local schools, but still need courses such as U.S. history to graduate, she explained, and the virtual high school can help to fill this gap.

Next up on the priority list are students currently attending Defense Department schools. Students are asked to seek traditional in-school classes first, but can request online access when there's a scheduling conflict or a required course isn’t offered in their local department school.

"This school is particularly important for military dependent students, who do move more often," Riley said.

The virtual high school currently operates as a supplemental school, she explained, meaning it's intended to fill in the gaps rather than replace the activity's brick-and-mortar schools.

Riley said plans are in the works to get the virtual school certified to grant diplomas -- something that would require the school to offer all of the courses needed to meet graduation requirements.

Officials also hope to create virtual elementary and middle schools down the road, Riley said. "But this high school is a great starting point and increases education opportunities for our students."

Marilee Fitzgerald, the activity's acting director, called the virtual high school a "great step forward."

"It's an important contribution to the way we educate children in the 21st century DoDEA," Fitzgerald said.

To comment on this blog, please visit the Family Matters blog.

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