Published on USNews
June 14, 2012
By Phyllis Rose
Students who want or need to earn high school credits during the summer used to rely on school districts to provide summer school options. Now, due to difficult budgetary times, many districts have been forced to slash those programs.
In California, the Los Angeles Unified School District cut roughly 95 percent of its summer school programs, while The School District of Philadelphia can now only offer free summer school options to seniors.
As in-class summer options dwindle, online programs are offering students alternatives to earn high school credits.
"I almost see the summer school concept as ending fairly soon," says Ray McNulty, chief learning officer at Penn Foster High School, a distance learning provider. "Living in the world today with the model of online, with the affordability of online, with the networking … I just think it's a great opportunity to expand learning around the whole year."
[Explore three tips for engaging in summer learning.]
For parents and students exploring summer courses, here are three online programs still accepting students as of June 14. (Before choosing an online program, students should contact their high schools to ensure courses will count toward official credits.)
1. The VHS Collaborative: It is fairly common for students using online education programs to be among hundreds of other students in one virtual classroom. But The VHS Collaborative, a nonprofit organization also known as Virtual High School, caps its courses at 25 students.
"Because collaboration and engagement is so important to us, we want the teacher to have a lot of time with each student, just like in a classroom," notes Carol Arnold, a VHS spokesperson. "You really wouldn't want more than 25 students in an in-person classroom."
These smaller class sizes enable teachers and students to have more one-on-one interaction, and give students more opportunities to work with one another on group projects, says Liz Pape, president and CEO of VHS, noting that 80 percent to 85 percent of students successfully complete VHS courses.
"Our course design model really fosters and supports students in an online course, engaging in an online discussion—and that's what keeps them engaged in the course work," Pape says.
VHS is offering 17 courses this summer. The first session starts on June 28 and is still open for enrollment, and the second session starts on July 30.
2. National Connections Academy: Finding motivation in the summer can be difficult for high school students who would rather spend time with friends than in front of a computer. To combat the issue, National Connections Academy (NaCA) uses its teachers and "support coaches" to reach out to students who may be falling behind in an online course through NaCA.
"Teachers [and support coaches] do a very good job of nagging and encouraging students," says Kristi Clements, assistant director of student services at Connections Education, the online education provider that operates NaCA. "It's summertime and students don't have that school setting motivating them, so they play a big role in that motivation."
[See how teachers can build skills in the summer.]
NaCA offers nearly 100 different online courses during the summer for both original credit and recovery credit, and still has availability in courses starting on June 19, June 26, and July 3. While courses can be completed at the student's pace, all work must be completed by August 3, the end date for the program's summer session, Clements notes.
3. Penn Foster High School: Known as one of the largest distance learning institutions in the world, Penn Foster High School graduates about 8,000 students annually. Offering open enrollment to courses, it's commonplace for an Algebra I course or U.S. History class to have more than 400 students—which can benefit participants, says McNulty, Penn Foster's chief learning officer.
"When you talk about the size that we operate with, there's much richer opportunity for students to be having a conversation and gaining knowledge," he notes.
With larger class sizes, Penn Foster utilizes more instructors for each class—sometimes ranging from five to 20 teachers for one course, McNulty says. At times, multiple instructors will participate and interact with students on discussion boards and during open periods, says Heather Washenko, a high school instructor at Penn Foster.
"Sometimes there are quite a few students in discussion posts that need additional resources and instructional support," she says. "We work together to provide a lot of resources to students and to make sure they know that we're here."
Lauren Owen, who received her high school diploma through Penn Foster, says that while online education lacks the face-to-face dynamic of in-class courses, she never felt alone.
"Whenever I needed help, there was always an E-mail or phone call [I could make]," Owen says. "They may not have been there face to face, but they were with me the whole time."