Union Virtual Learning Academy provides a unique opportunity for high school students in the Union Public Schools District to have a challenging educational experience in a supportive online environment.
Students have access to classes across the curriculum any time, any place. Union Virtual Learning Academy (UVLA) offers core classes, and interesting electives. Courses are self-paced, interactive, and supported as students communicate with highly qualified teachers.
Each student is monitored by a certified teacher at Union Public Schools. Union has a commitment to quality and high standards. Courses within the UVLA program are for first-time credit only and are not for credit recovery.
At school, but online
Originally posted March 27, 2012
Using personal and school-owned laptop and desktop computers, students complete coursework at the Virtual Center at Union High School. MICHAEL WYKE / Tulsa World
Union High School's online classes at school prove popular
BY KIM ARCHER Tulsa World Staff Writer
(Reprinted with Permission. This is not an endorsement.)
Click here for more details about the Union Virtual Learning Academy
By taking his English class online, Union High School senior Christian Dorman is learning time-management skills that will be critical when he heads to college.
"It's imperative for you to keep track of what you need to do," he said recently as he worked on his laptop in the academy's Virtual Center.
In its pilot year, Union's Virtual Learning Academy has grown in popularity among high school juniors and seniors. Enrollment is expected to nearly double to more than 800 students next year, said Union Assistant Superintendent Kirt Hartzler.
"If schools do not create their own virtual avenue for kids, they're going to be behind," he said. "It's here to stay, and it's going to increase."
Nationwide, more than a million public education students take courses online, compared with 45,000 in 2000. It is projected that nearly 11 million U.S. students will be taking online classes by 2014, according to market research firm Ambient Insight.
"In the traditional classroom, the teacher is the sage of the stage, the purveyor of knowledge," Hartzler said. "In a digital classroom, students are authors of their own knowledge. The teacher is a support and a lifeline."
Today's students are "digital natives," and they are asking for a variety of learning opportunities, including self-paced courses online, Hartzler said. It's not about seat time but mastery, he said.
Senior Matthew Hermann, 18, who is captain of Union's football team, said taking English online allows for extra sleep after football practice. He completes his English coursework on weekends.
"I didn't think I would be able to do this. I have to find the answers on my own," he said. "But all the teachers are really great. That's the thing I really like about this."
Students have access to online courses 24 hours a day, seven days a week and are in constant contact with teachers. Hermann said he probably sees his online teacher more than any other because he often comes to the lab to work or to ask questions.
"I feel like I've gotten a lot closer to the teachers. I feel like I have a bond with Mrs. (Jona) Ghose," Hermann said. "From the get-go, she's been a really nice teacher."
The program is especially beneficial to students who are involved in programs such as sports or music.
"It really works for athletes," said Ghose, who teaches English. "This week, the golf team is out of town. But they are not missing classroom instruction."
The program is designed to have a college feel, said Teresa Hudson, the academy's coordinator. (NOTE: Hudson retired in the summer of 2013.)
"The students are very engaged. And they have fun learning. It really frees up time to really do their passion," she said.
Doing it right
Union offers a blended model of virtual learning, which pairs online courses and classroom-based instruction. Juniors and seniors may only take up to two online courses per year.
"Kids still want the social experience of high school. It still allows kids to be part of the high school environment and participate in clubs, fine arts, athletics and other activities," Hartzler said.
After two years of research, Union purchased a "viable, robust" curriculum, and its own high school teachers instruct students online.
Students often hang out at the virtual center on campus, completing coursework or meeting with teachers. Those who fall behind are required to come in for remediation, although few have needed it.
Hartzler said he believes the blended model of online learning is the best model for students.
"High school still has a lot to offer. What would it be like if someone got all their education in isolation?" he said, referring to those programs that offer full-time virtual learning without a physical location.
Hartzler also said state per-pupil reimbursements should be weighted differently for blended models than for full-time online programs.
"The weight should not be the same because the cost isn't the same," he said.
Hartzler is particularly concerned that the state be diligent in its oversight of virtual learning, including vendor selection and control of fees and costs.
"Education is a trillion-dollar business in this country," he said. "Virtual learning is a new opportunity for people to make a lot of money. Vendors are popping up all over. We just have to be careful."
A look at Oklahoma's virtual schools
Tulsa Public School's Tulsa Learning Academy serves students in grades 6-12 as an online alternative to a traditional classroom setting. The academy has a physical location at Tulsa Promenade shopping mall to accommodate student testing and one-on-one instruction. The fully online school is considering serving elementary grades next year.
Union Virtual Learning Academy is a blended-model school that accepts students in 11th and 12th grades only. Students may take only two classes online and their remaining courses in traditional classrooms at Union High School.
Many public school districts offer supplemental online courses, many of them for credit recovery or to take courses not offered in their school.
Most virtual schools in Oklahoma are operated by for-profit companies that contract with public school districts.
Union senior Kendall Marth, 17, does coursework in the Virtual Center at Union High School. MICHAEL WYKE / Tulsa World
Union senior Eric Mischler, 18, works on a computer he checked out in the Virtual Center at Union High School. MICHAEL WYKE / Tulsa World