Niles students benefiting from online advance placement classes

By By BEN RAYMOND LODE / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Niles High School is among the first high schools in the state to access the Michigan Virtual High School.
And currently, the first batch of 35 Niles High students are finding out what online virtual learning is.
Students submit all assignments by e-mail or fax and communication between the students and the virtual high school teachers is by phone or e-mail.
The purchase of a new, state-of-the-art computer lab used for the virtual high school, was made possible through a $36,000 Hunter Foundation donation.
Jim Craig, Curriculum Development director at Niles Community Schools, said the virtual high school allows students to take Advanced Placement (AP) classes of their choice, whenever their schedule allows.
He also said taking AP classes is becoming increasingly important for students who wish to gain access to high-quality, four-year colleges or universities.
In addition, test results have shown that students using the virtual high school's AP curriculum have better test results than those students who take traditional AP classes.
Craig, however, said it takes a certain type of student to succeed in the virtual high school.
So far, Craig said, the high school has been "extremely happy" with the work ethic and attitude of the students taking virtual high school classes.
Dan Anglin, a high school junior, will be halfway through his Advanced Placement biology course in a few weeks.
On Tuesday, he went through an on-line lecture on how biologists work and research methods they use.
So far, Anglin said he likes the virtual learning experience.
In addition, Anglin can use his computer at home to access course material and assignments, which gives him the opportunity to work ahead.
Anglin, aiming for a career in the medical field, however, said the online classes involve a lot of reading.
In particular going through assignments requires a lot of reading, he said.
But despite the amount of reading, Anglin is glad to have access to the virtual high school because it has allowed him to take the classes he wanted to take this semester.
Saundria Wilson is the virtual high school mentor teacher at Niles High.
Wilson said she functions as a liaison between the virtual high school, the students and those teachers whose students are taking virtual high school classes.
Wilson said her job is to provide support and make sure the students do the work.
For the most part, Wilson said, the students have been positive to the new learning experience.
She has, however, sensed that for some students it is frustrating to not be able to communicate face-to-face with the teacher who teaches the on-line classes.
And, some find it hard to be in an environment where there is little peer support from other students, she said.
Although the virtual high school offers AP classes, it is also possible for students to take traditional flex classes they otherwise wouldn't be able to because of schedule issues.
Or, simply because the class wasn't offered, Wilson said.
David Walterhouse, also a high school junior, is taking a traditional oceanography class on-line this semester.
Like Anglin, he enjoys the freedom the on-line classes give.

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