For many years, high schools in West Virginia followed a traditional path to graduation. Basic core classes and electives were offered in a face-to-face setting, with the students sitting in rows of chairs facing the teacher at the front of the room. However, it became clear that new ideas and innovative tools were needed to embrace the future of education. Over time, we cast a wide net by dramatically expanding virtual learning opportunities for students at our small high school.
It all started with the notion of dual credit classes offered through our local university, allowing students to earn college credit while fulfilling high school requirements at minimal cost. This excited both parents and students, who often graduated from high school with a semester of college credit and no debt. Collaborative learning followed, where the teacher no longer lectured the students but worked with them as a facilitator of learning by challenging them to take ownership of their progress and comprehension. Using best practices based on national research, teachers were instructing at higher depths of knowledge than ever before. To enhance this style of learning, our district introduced a 1:1 initiative with students receiving their own electronic device, an Apple iPad. This opened the online world to Sissonville High School. Exploring digital texts, researching and producing their own videos, and thinking critically about contemporary issues all came from providing our students instant access to information.
Credit recovery changed dramatically with the introduction of online learning. If a student needed to go back and relearn content standards that were not mastered, they were now able to do so online and remain on track to graduate. As both teachers and students honed their technological skills, the era of virtual classes emerged. The ability to expand class offerings for our small high school was a watershed event. Starting small, students who could not physically attend school could participate and complete graduation requirements along with their cohorts. Then, if our master schedule did not allow for individual preference in classes, we could now offer courses virtually. Personalized education plans were expanded to include offerings previously available only to larger schools in our area, including medical terminology, agriculture science, criminal justice, and AP courses.
Casting a wide net has opened myriad opportunities for our students. Virtual schooling has seen explosive growth over the past year, and we now offer full-time, part-time, and individual classes to our students. The district online program, of which we are a part, has grown from single digits to expecting over 400 students this upcoming fall. The possibilities for our students are endless. We are optimistic and excited to see what the future holds.
Melanie E. White is curriculum assistant principal at Sissonville High School, Charleston, WV. She is the 2017 West Virginia Assistant Principal of the Year. Follow her on Twitter at @whitem7.