“Ssh, silence” might be a typical placard in any traditional library, but walk into the Rappahannock County High School library/media center and an unusual scene greets the eye. Many students are busily engaged in independent, online-based learning.
They may be watching a video stream, listening to an audio clip, posting in an online discussion, instant messaging with an E-teacher, or conferring with their classmates in a unique learning opportunity known as Virtual Virginia (VV).
This web-based school is overseen by the Virginia Department of Education and publishes their goal as offering “AP [Advanced Placement] and foreign language courses to students across the commonwealth and the nation.” Although they offer limited basic courses and even a quality SAT prep class, the majority of courses are intended to provide “high-quality, rigorous course content.”
For students at RCHS, Virtual Virginia affords the option of taking advanced classes that a small, public school cannot offer. They enroll in a course and, instead of reporting to a regular classroom, students are assigned a period in the library/media center. It is there that they use the computers to “attend” class.
Brooke Hatcher, a senior and veteran of the VV program, likes this option for learning. She has taken four of the AP courses, including an AP Art History class. “I love the fact I can work ahead on projects, and can do my work whenever it fits my schedule best. The online content of having access to videos, interesting websites, and photos, makes the classes so fascinating, and makes me look forward to doing my assignments. My favorite part of the course is the discussion boards, where I can communicate with students all around Virginia in a free response by arguing or supporting a hypothesis or situations the teacher gives us. The classes give you a great sense of independence, which might work well for some, but maybe not for others.”
Those who benefit most from the online option are students who desire a challenge beyond the curriculum catalog at RCHS. For example, someone who has maximized all the advanced math and science course offerings at Rapp may enroll in AP Statistics and/or AP Physics to broaden their academic vita.
Christine Collins, head of the Virtual Virginia program at Rappahannock, elaborated on some additional benefits, “Students do not have to pay for the AP exams. Virtual Virginia picks up that tab.” In addition, “kids who take these classes often find a different way to learn. They have to be able to clearly communicate, in detail, when they chat with a teacher or other students online. Plus, many colleges are now doing a lot of virtual learning. Our students will be familiar with that type of learning environment before they even graduate.”
Those who take on the challenge of the independent learning environment find longer-range benefits, as well. One RCHS graduate, A.J.Collins, is pleased with the advantages the program offered him.
“Virtual Virginia has, along with my excellent education at Rappahannock, allowed me to enter college as a junior, and the AP credit I have earned allowed me to place out of the core curriculum here at the University of Alabama. We should be looking for students to excel in the classroom, to go beyond the basic high school courses, to engage their minds. Many students, especially those in rural areas, cannot take college-level courses, and must turn to new online technology in order to expand their horizons. This is the future of the Commonwealth, the education of the future leaders within our country.”
Once a student is interested in the virtual option at RCHS, they may enroll at the beginning of each semester. Some advanced courses have prerequisites, but enrollment is open to all. Virtual Virginia adds new courses each academic year and is even hoping next year to offer additional classes that are not advanced placement, classes like Arabic and Chinese. For more information, visit Virtual Virginia on the web at www.virtualvirgina.org.