Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Temecula Advantage Virtual School

In February I visited the Temecula Advantage Virtual School in the Temecula Valley Unified School District. The site, the students, and the staff were all impressive. It was a great opportunity to spend some face-to-face time talking to the people who make this virtual school work.

Image licensed from PresenterMedia
The principal, Dr. Todd Reed, gave me a tour of the facility. The first thing I noticed when I walked into this “virtual” school was that there were students everywhere. The site consists of two main rooms. One room has desks for Dr. Reed (who also creates and teaches some of the online classes) and the the two full time teachers. And the other is an open space where students can work in multiple configurations. In both rooms students were working in groups, in pairs, and individually. Dr. Reed explained that while the school has an enrollment of approximately 170 (and growing) full time online students, many of those students visit the physical site on a regular basis. Some come in for an hour to meet with an instructor for help on an assignment or to review their progress. Others come in for most of the day so that they can meet with instructors, work with partners or with groups, or just to get some schoolwork done without the distractions of their homes.

Mr. Balaris, the math teacher, was not available the day I visited. But Ms. Evans, the English Language Arts teacher, graciously took some time to talk to me. In between fielding questions from virtual and face-to-face students, she broke some of the myths about high school online teachers. Many people picture online teachers as being at home in their pajamas and working off-and-on throughout the day. I asked Ms. Evans to describe a typical day: She arrives before the doors open and is there all day. She meets with the students who come in to the physical site that day looking for assistance, and she meets with the students she called in because she needed to discuss some work with them. She logs onto the learning management system to check the progress of all of her students, and she makes contact via phone or email with any student who appears to be stuck on something (or has just been avoiding something). She grades assignments, gives feedback, and provides general support. Then in the evenings and on weekends she spends time creating new content for the courses she teaches.

I was also able to interview several of the students - and they had a lot to say about online learning. My first question was about why they chose to move from their comprehensive high school to the online school. There were almost as many different answers to that question as there were students in the room. One student is a competitive athlete whose training and competition schedule is not a good match for a traditional high school. One of the students is an actress who needs to miss chunks of time when there is a job that the agent lines up. Others felt that the social atmosphere of the traditional school was not a good fit for them. And some felt that the pace of the instruction (either too fast or too slow) at the traditional school was a barrier that the online school is able to remove.

I asked the students if they missed socializing with their friends. The majority of them reported that they still see their same friends outside of school. They feel like they get plenty of opportunities to socialize. Of course, some of the students said that they see their old friends and classmates less often, but they feel that is an advantage of the online school because being a bit less social helps keep them on track.

The Temecula Advantage Virtual School is definitely not a “one size fits all” situation. Some of the students choose to come to the school site almost every day because they know that they stay more accountable that way. Others come once or twice a week to see the teachers and to work with project partners or groups. And some only come when they need some specific support or when they need to take an assessment. It was clear that Dr. Reed, who also serves as the district’s Instructional Technology Administrator, Ms. Evans, and Mr. Balaris have created a flexible atmosphere both online and on site that meets the individual needs of each of these students.

Dennis Large
educator & learner
follow me @dennislarge

No comments:

Post a Comment