Carbon Co. school provides virtual school option

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News,Science and Technology

RAWLINS, Wyo. (AP) — Traveling almost 250 miles a day to drive their two sons to and from school was not a feasible option for the Heward family.

Hanna Elk Mountain Medicine Bow Junior Senior High School staff and administration worked with the Hewards to provide a virtual school option.

"These students live roughly 60 miles from here," HEM Principal Dale Kari said. "To try to keep (the students) in our school system, the staff looked at how we could help them."

HEM decided to offer the program for Timothy and Logan Heward in early August, Kari said.

"The core teachers are working to make sure they get the education they need instead of losing them from our district," said HEM English teacher Sarah Jones, who also teaches the virtual students.

"We want to make sure they are working with teachers they know and teachers they can contact if they need help," she said.

Typically the program Odysseyware is used for credit recovery in summer school programs, but HEM is altering it to meet the school's and family's needs, Jones tells the Rawlins Daily Times (http://bit.ly/QvA3XJ).

"The kids are definitely challenged with this program, as well as the teachers doing it," Jones said.

The math teacher, for example, uses other online programs in addition to the Odysseyware program to teach them the lessons, she said.

Malea Heward said her boys don't mind the change, although they miss their friends. The biggest difference is the amount of reading required to be a virtual student, she said.

The online program offers core classes in math, history, language arts, and science. It also covers physical education, Kari said.

HEM teachers set aside a class period to work with their virtual students, Kari said.

One of the useful features of the program is that teachers can easily customize projects and curriculum, Kari said.

Some teachers have made adjustments to help meet current curriculum, like specific science experiments, he said.

Customization has been especially helpful for agriculture classes offered at HEM, something the program doesn't cover, Kari said.

Teachers can email their virtual students to explain questions about the curriculum.

It's a learning curve both students and teachers have had to overcome, Heward said.

"This is the first time for teachers and our boys," she said. "They're learning )the program as well as we are."

One problem the school and students face is Internet bandwidth availability.

Some days it's slow to get an email response from teachers because of connection problems, Heward said.

"Because we're so rural it's been hard even getting the Internet out here," she said.

If the boys can't connect one day, they have to spend the next day catching up on their classwork, Heward said.

Principal Kari agrees that bandwidth is a problem.

As technology gets better, the possibilities will expand, Kari said. In the future there might be a point where web cameras can be set up in the classrooms so kids can partake in discussion, he said.

"If we ever got the bandwidth for our school and other places, we could eventually be able to be a part of class via technology," Kari said.

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Information from: Rawlins (Wyo.) Daily Times, http://www.rawlinstimes.com

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