One third of the higher education students, over six million in all, are now enrolled in online courses— and the number is increasing rapidly, according to a survey by Babson Research Group and the College Board. What’s more, 55% of public school districts are reporting student enrollments in distance education courses, such as those offered virtually. With approximately 90% of its own student population headed to college, the Superintendent at the Ramsey School District in Ramsey, NJ knew it was critical for the district to provide high school students with the knowledge and skills needed for success in an online classroom.
Tucked away in a suburb not far from New York City, Ramsey is one of the New Jersey’s top public high schools with more than 3,000 students in the district and 15,000 residents in the entire town. Unlike most small suburban communities, the town is known for rallying around their students in pursuit of higher education. In his continual strife for excellence, Dr. Roy Montesano, Ramsey Superintendent and the 2012 New Jersey Superintendent of the Year, sought a means for the school to provide the same educational opportunities that are offered in larger school districts.
“A hybrid model is where education is headed and we need to stay on top of that as educators,” said Montesano. “In order to be successful, we need to look beyond our walls for ways to offer what can’t be accomplished in-house.”
After seeing several of his fellow Superintendents achieve success with Virtual High School (VHS), he began evaluating the VHS program while his Director of Guidance, Michael Thumm, simultaneously examined other online learning providers. Following positive reviews from fellow superintendents and students, Ramsey High School decided to join VHS and secured a teaching membership that entitles them to 25 student seats per semester.
“For us it’s really about quality control, and what VHS clearly brought to the table was a quality online learning experience,”
During the process of selecting and training both a teacher and site coordinator to teach a VHS course and support students at the school, Thumm began communicating the program to parents through a letter sent home, evening events and their email newsletter. He also took VHS’ guidance on how to select students for the program and began looking for counselor recommendations of students who are organized and diligent in their studies as well as those who have time in their schedule. Interested students completed a learner survey to ensure they were an appropriate candidate. Course expectations were laid out and grades were checked.
Gregory Starikovsky, a language teacher and member of the Ramsey world languages staff, volunteered and was excited to teach a section of VHS’ popular Latin 1 course as part of the school’s membership. Initially, Ramsey was up and running with VHS in September, 2009 with a small group of 10 students to garner feedback and fine-tune the process before opening it up to all 25 the following school year.
“For those first 10 students, the experience was a bit of an awakening,” said Montesano. “They quickly found that they had to stay on top of their coursework. Otherwise, they would get behind. Overall, though, they didn’t find the experience to be that different from the social networking they do on a daily basis.”
Since September, 2009, for a scheduled period each day, VHS students at Ramsey High gather either in the school’s media center, computer lab or writing lab to take their course online. Over the last three years they have had dozens of students successfully complete a VHS online course in subjects, such as AP Economics, AP Psychology, AP Music Theory, Genes & Disease, Peacemaking and U.S. Foreign Policy.
Teachers at Ramsey are also lining up to be the next VHS online teacher given the positive experience Starikovsky has had. “He took VHS’ eight week NetCourse Instructional Methodologies (NIM) course initially and, overall, has had minimal issues. He’s even considering creating an online textbook for his Latin course,” said Thumm.
However, both Montesano and Thumm agree that changes need to made on their end to take the VHS program to the next level, including marketing it better and getting students more involved. They also want to get together all of the kids enrolled in VHS classes more often to garner feedback.
Montesano would like to see the school expand their VHS membership in the future to meet demand and set-up every student for success in college. “Eventually, I would like to see every Ramsey student take a course before they graduate,” said Montesano. “We’ve really just begun to tap into the potential that VHS courses can offer our school.”
About Virtual High School (VHS)
Virtual High School is the pioneer of online course design and instruction for teachers and online education for high school students. Virtual High School partners with schools to provide rigorous, student-centered online courses that help expand rather than replace existing curriculum options. The VHS collaborative includes 676 member schools and more than 15,000 enrolled students from 30 U.S. states and 43 countries. The recipient of the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA) 2005, 2007 and 2008 awards for Excellence in Programming and Excellence in Best Practices and the Stockholm Challenge 2001 Award for exemplary use of technology in education, VHS was founded in 1996 and is headquartered in Maynard, Massachusetts. For more information, visit www.goVHS.org or call (978) 897-1900.
Press Contact: VHS: Carol Arnold, Arnold Communications, email@example.com, (877) 718-4604 x2.
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The pioneer of K-12 online learning and course design for teachers, Virtual High School (VHS) is a non-profit collaborative of high schools, middle schools, teachers and students.