EXCHANGE: Students adding online classes to schedules



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WATERLOO, Ill. (AP) — Whether it's learning a new language or how to do computer programming, students at Gibault Catholic High School had the opportunity this semester to take an online elective class through the Illinois Virtual School.

And eight students at Gibault jumped at the chance, even though it meant more work, better time management and collaboration with teachers and classmates across the state.

Sophomore Matthew Lock is taking Mandarin Chinese. "It like it," he said. "It's actually pretty hard, but I'm enjoying it."

Matthew said he's learned how to say "Nín hao" so far, which means hello, and to write a few Chinese characters.

"Learning a language online is really self-dependent," he said. "I have to definitely have a lot of discipline to learn it."

This semester marks the first time Gibault partnered with the Illinois Virtual School, an accredited school that employs certified teachers, to offer additional elective classes that were not previously included in the curriculum such as Mandarin Chinese, oceanography, international business, java programming or digital photography. All the instruction is delivered online and is available to students at any time.

With regular classes and extracurricular activities, it's challenging for the high school students to find time for their online elective classes.

Junior Matthew Blodgett, who is taking Java programming, sets aside time on a daily basis to complete the online coursework.

Junior Rebecca Muich said she completes online coursework for her international business class in between her classes at Gibault and on the weekend.

The online class keeps Rebecca busy with between 18 and 19 assignments every week. She also has a job and participates in band. "It's hard to balance it," she said.

To help keep the students on track to complete the coursework by May 19, Heather Johnson, a social studies teacher at Gibault, mentors students taking an online class.

Johnson said she meets with the eight students every Monday morning to touch base. "I'm here to make sure they are successful in their academic endeavor," she said.

Johnson, who has a passion for technology, knows firsthand about online learning. She's currently taking online classes for her master's degree in education at Lindenwood University-Belleville.

"I can share my struggles with them and a lot of my successes as well," she said. "The reality is when these kiddos go to college, they will be taking an online class, at least one. I think they are a step ahead of the game."

Johnson praised the students for keeping up with their online class. "They are doing fabulous," she said.

Johnson encourages Gibault students to contact their teacher at the Illinois Virtual School if they have a question or need guidance. Rebecca said her teacher will usually get back to her within a couple of hours.

Several of the Gibault students also communicate with their online classmates throughout the state.

Gibault students who complete elective online classes earn high school credit, and their grades in the courses will be calculated into their grade point averages, according to Pat Herzing, Gibault's director of enrollment.

The online courses through the Illinois Virtual School are not free for Gibault students. They cost $190 per class per semester.

However, Senior Kenzi Redohl said, "It's worth it."

Kenzi, who will attend McKendree University in the fall, is learning about different types of businesses in her online entrepreneurship class. She was interested in taking an online class in preparation for college.

"It's a really good learning experience," Kenzi said.

Like Kenzi, junior Morgan Wiegand wanted to prepare for college. "It's just a great opportunity," she said of taking the online class. "I took advantage of it.

"Morgan said she loves her online economics class. "It's fun," she said as she gets to play games online and learn at the same time.

Gibault isn't the only area school to partner with Illinois Virtual School. Other metro-east schools including Belleville East and West high schools, Lebanon High School and Metro East Lutheran School in Edwardsville also work with Illinois Virtual School.

"We use it for a wide range of circumstances," said Jeff Dosier, superintendent of Belleville School District 201.

Dosier said the high schools may allow students to take classes through the Illinois Virtual School if they have an illness and can't attend school or transfers in and needs a foreign language class the district doesn't offer.

"It's a great opportunity for our students," he said of the Illinois Virtual School.

Christine Gregory with the Illinois Virtual School said the school — an Illinois State Board of Education program administered by Peoria County Regional Office of Education — aims to offer supplemental educational opportunities to fifth- through 12th-grade students throughout the state. Gregory serves as the digital learning support lead and social media/marketing specialist for the school, which serves 3,000 students.

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Source: Belleville News-Democrat, http://bit.ly/1IObuiV

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Information from: Belleville News-Democrat, http://www.bnd.com

This is an Illinois Exchange story offered by the Belleville News-Democrat.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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