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Virtual Schools - Even in Kansas

Kansas, one of the backwater states of the United States is not exactly renowned for it's technological prowess. Yet, even here, the benefits of virtual schooling - as in full on virtual school - have not gone unnoticed.

Its known as Shawnee Mission Northwest High School, and is actually a fairly large school for ages 11-18. Remarkably however, it now offers an extremely wide variety of subjects, far, far more than the visible student body could possibly require.

Of course, what's going on is immediately obvious already. The school sits on several high speed backbone internet lines, and is using them to its full advantage in providing lessons for a wide vaiety of students above and beyond those physically present. It is not unusual at Shawnee, for classes to be mixed attendance - both physical and virtual.

Only about 1 percent of all school kids -- elementary and secondary -- are taking virtual classes, according to national estimates. But that number is expected to grow, because virtual learning programs are popping up all over.

In Kansas, many districts offer online programs, some run by for-profit companies such as Insight Schools, K12 and Kaplan. Insight School of Kansas, a full-time online charter school with offices in Olathe, has nearly tripled its enrollment: from 500-plus students last year, its first, to about 1,400 this year. They live all across Kansas.

Hillary Laaker, an 11th-grader at Insight School of Kansas, lives on a farm in Linwood, in Leavenworth County. She's being raised by her grandmother, Dea VanDeBerghe, and an average weekday will find Hillary on the computer in her office, right beside the office of her grandma, who works from home.

Hillary calls her virtual school "a great thing," and what she likes best is her interaction with teachers. One Sunday she had a question about an assignment, so she called her teacher and left a message, expecting to hear back Monday. But the teacher called back at 9 that night.

Her online teachers "have such dedication to helping you do your best," Hillary says. And although a traditional school class might meet five days a week, those five hours can't compare "to one hour (online) where you ask questions and get really detailed responses and can still call when you need it," she says.

Because Hillary is a Type 1 diabetic, she spent a lot of time in the nurse's office when she was in regular school, VanDeBerghe says.

For the moment, both are still more orientated towards e-learning than true virtual schooling. However, that is set to change, as the empirical evidence of full VR over much belaboured e-learning starts to overwhelm the older form of virtual schooling.

Until then, it is reassuring to know that even the most technologically backwards of areas are willing to embrace steps towards full on virtual schooling for their children.


'Virtual students' go to school without being in school

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