Grant to fund Niles virtual classroom project

By By BEN RAYMOND LODE / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Niles Community Schools accepted a $36,000 donation from the Hunter Foundation at Monday's school board meeting.
The donation allows Niles High School to implement a Virtual Technology Classroom Project next year.
The school hopes the new project will assist its high school students who are planning to attend increasingly competitive colleges.
Jim Craig, director of Curriculum and Instruction at Niles Community Schools, said the donation will be spent to furnish a new computer lab with 15 desktop workstations, six wireless laptop computers, conference and research tables and a teacher workstation.
The new lab will be used by the high school students who wish to pursue classes at the Michigan Virtual High School, a school that brings state-of-the-art learning tools to high school students and teachers.
Craig said the new lab will allow students to take Advanced Placement classes in subject areas of their choice, whenever their schedule allows.
The school already has Advanced Placement classes, but the problem is finding enough students willing to take the highly specialized classes at the same time, Craig said.
In addition to allowing students to take the class when it fits their own schedule, the online Advanced Placement test also shows better results than the general Advanced Placement test.
Craig said the APEX curriculum, the Advanced Placement curriculum used by Michigan Virtual High School, has had a pass rate of 92 percent on the Advanced Placement test, compared to a general pass rate of 62 percent.
Students will be able to access all courses offered through Michigan's Virtual High School.
Craig said the courses are taught in an asynchronous environment, which means students are assigned in groups across the state of 20-30 to an online teacher.
The teacher coordinates student work, makes assessments, answers questions and produces a grade for the students.
However, a full-time teacher, funded through a federal Innovative Programs grant, will be assigned to the lab at Niles High School, Craig said.
Craig said this teacher will monitor the students' progress, assist with technology and serve as a liaison between the student, the school, the online teacher and the Michigan Virtual High School.
The virtual high school is not meant to replace teachers and students will only be allowed to take online Advanced Placement classes if the regular Advanced Placement class offered at the high school conflicts with their own schedule.
Also, students taking online Advanced Placement classes must have a certain GPA to be allowed to participate in the program.
The school will be funding the annual subscription costs with the Michigan Virtual High School at $4,200.
The latest Hunter Foundation donation adds to the long list of donations the organization has made to the school district since 1995. The foundation has, among other things, donated money to Niles High School DNA lab, the support trips to Fernwood and the school district's Healthworks program.
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