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Leon County Virtual School

By Gina Jordan


Tallahassee, FL – Leon County is getting a new school, but this one doesn't involve construction, and students can take classes in their living room. Gina Jordan has more about the district's new virtual school.

More than fifteen-hundred kids in Leon County already take at least one online course through the Florida Virtual School system. Now if they wish, they can take those classes through the county. Scotty Crowe is the district's Director of Teaching and Learning.

"With the use of cell phones, use of texting, use of email, use of Facebook, they're technology natives and this is an environment they thrive in. And a lot of our students thrive in an education environment that's virtual as well. So we think it brings more opportunities for those students to learn in an environment that they are very comfortable in and they learn well in."

Participants will enroll in virtual school just as they would any other Leon County public school. Kids in grades six through twelve will have the flexibility to spend part of their day at a traditional school, then go home and take courses that may not otherwise be available. Gillian Gregory is an assistant principal in the district and is helping coordinate the new virtual school.

"It's not one size fits all. We have multiple online programs. We have a full time program; we have a part time program. We have programs that work with the different departments, different divisions like a home school group that we look forward to offering services to."

In tough budget times, organizers say this is actually an opportunity for the district to generate revenue as students, like homeschoolers, enter the system. The state sends the county money for every student enrolled in public school, virtual or not. Gregory says students who don't have access to a computer at home can still join.

"We do have a Leon County foundation that's going to be helping our students who are unable to provide for themselves. There are some requirements associated with that program. However, there are no barriers or obstacles to students participating in the Leon County Virtual School program itself."

Lincoln High School junior Kirsten Huffer took her first course this year through Florida Virtual School.

"It's been really different just getting used to not having daily lectures, and it's more like it's up to you obviously to get your work done and stay on pace."

In the state's program, Kirsten works off a chart that tracks her progress, and she has monthly calls with her teacher, who may be based in another city. She is considering taking a Spanish course next year through Leon's virtual school, where it will be easier to meet face to face with her teacher. But she says kids who are hands-on learners may not do as well.

"I would just want to tell anyone that if they're planning on taking it, they should make sure that they're really motivated and diligent. And it would also help if they're really interested in the subject that they're taking online because if they're not, they just ignore it and procrastinate."

Katie Rudzig, also a junior at Lincoln, wishes someone had told her it's easy to fall behind when you have to teach yourself the material. After taking two virtual courses this year, she says she would rather be in a classroom.

"For some students, it's going to be a life saver and they are going to love it. But for other students, it's going to be really, really hard because I know I personally don't do well without having a teacher in front of me and being in class with other people and having homework every single night due."

Katie suggests that students who are thinking about virtual school should first take one or two courses that they don't think will be difficult. And she hasn't given up on the concept.

"In the future if I have to take a virtual class online for college or something, I think this has really prepared me for it."

The district's Scotty Crowe says the teachers are local, employed by Leon County, as opposed to the state's program, and available for in person meetings. Plus, virtual students get the same perks as those enrolled in brick and mortar schools.

"We would have opportunities for help sessions to have sessions where they may meet at the Leon County Library or in another time and space where they can have those opportunities. They can also, they're Leon County school students so they would have opportunities with some of the other things we have, extracurricular activities, other things that the school system has to offer as well."

Another plus: the district doesn't have to meet class size requirements in virtual school, and there is no cut off as far as how many students will be accepted. Registration is underway.

For more information, log onto http://www.leon.k12.fl.us/virtualschool/index.html.