Online learning is now available to all high school students within District 50. Westminster Virtual Academy opened this fall, and already 80 students have enrolled, choosing a technological route for their education.
The academy was approved by the board of education last spring, with the goal to maintain a competitive edge with other districts, said Steve Saunders, communications director for District 50. He said the district realized the need for an online option for students, especially those who are comfortable with technology or need another route to reach their educational goals.
“We also want to recapture some of the students who were going elsewhere outside the district for their schooling,” he said. “Students now get the best of both worlds. They are back in their district and also have the technology piece that is being used across the country now.”
Westminster Virtual Academy is available to District 50 residents only. Students can enroll at any time during the school year. It is a full-time, tuition-free option that provides instructional support from licensed teachers through direct contact and phone conferencing. Virtual Academy Principal James Steward said students are required to spend at least five hours a week at the academy headquarters at Hidden Lake High School.
“Right now students are choosing to be here two or three days a week on their own schedule. That’s what is great about the school; it offers a very flexible schedule,” he said. “We have also ordered equipment to allow for video conferencing, so students can talk with instructors face to face without having to come into Hidden Lake.”
The academy does not provide computers for students, but students are welcome to use the computers in the computer lab at Hidden Lake High School.
“For students in need, I try to coordinate with the Westminster 7:10 Rotary Club’s Computers for Kids program,” he said. “This program provides a computer to the student, which they get to keep. This is great because many charter online schools require the students to give the computer back if they leave the school.”
Although the online choice is appealing, with its flexible schedule and independent learning, Steward said the option may not be for everyone. The first thing he tells future students is the importance of reading and organization skills; technology skills alone won’t cut it.
“You have to be a good reader because you are learning through reading,” he said. “Students also have to commit to organizing their life, and learn how to sit down and do the work on their own.”
High school students can participate in Westminster High School sports activities while enrolled in the academy. Students can also participate in other after-school activities of their choosing, but are responsible to sign up for the activity themselves.
The academy is also available to middle school students on a case-by-case basis.
For more information on Westminster Virtual Academy, go online to www.westminstervirtual.org.