Online learning helps kids go the distance | NevadaAppeal.com

Online learning helps kids go the distance

Karen Woodmansee
Appeal Staff Writer

Karen Woodmansee/Nevada Appeal David Metcalf, 15, of Lockwood, takes classes over the Internet at Hillside Elementary School instead of attending Virginia City High School. This allows Metcalf to help care for his grandfather.

In 2006, David Metcalf was a freshman at Virginia City High School, riding the bus from his Lockwood home more than an hour each way.

This year, however, he studies on the Internet at Hillside Elementary School, just five minutes away from his home.

The 15-year-old, who is being raised by his grandparents, needs to be closer to home since his grandfather suffered a stroke.

“My grandmother said it would be easier this way,” David said. “A few days ago he fell, and I had to go home to help,” something that would not have been possible had he gone back to Virginia City High School.

The Internet option, often called distance education, is not uncommon in rural areas, but is being used more and more at school districts in the region. Though it was at first used for remedial work, now a student can get their entire education online.

Storey County School Superintendent Rob Slaby looked into the program due to the cost of busing a few students from the more rural areas in the north section of the county. It is beneficial for homebound students or students who work or take specialized training.

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Advanced Academics provides the service to the county. The Oklahoma-based company also provides distance learning for Washoe, Clark, Elko and Churchill counties.

The company has an online teacher available from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Slaby said online learning would not be an option for most students, but it is a big help to students from Painted Rock and could work for students with other needs as well.

“It’s good for homebound kids, ill kids, or kids with disciplinary problems,” he said.

The program is also helpful to financially strapped districts. Advanced Academics charges $3,500 per pupil, while the districts receives $6,800 per pupil from the state.

Former Storey County School Superintendent Henry Kilmer, a licensed teacher, has been hired to provide face-to-face assistance to the three students if they need it; and also to work with parents in case the students fall behind.

“We have a program that can handle the special need of each kid,” Kilmer said, adding the students can work at their own pace, and often finish the program before the school year ends.

He works with seven students in Storey County who take advantage of the program plus David, from Lockwood, and Sahara and Aspen Ruiz of Painted Rock, who attend online full-time.

There are also four students from Virginia City who attend online on a part-time basis.

David said he likes to go to the Hillside Elementary School library to study, because the computers there have more memory than the one he has at home.

He talks to the teacher via e-mail and instant message, and he can also call her if he has a question. The program is very flexible and allows him to spend as much time as he needs on a subject.

“I can work on geometry all day and the next day I can do something else,” he said. “I usually do one assignment in each class every day. You can do it whenever you want as long as you want, but you have to get done by a certain day.”

He thinks he’s doing better this year than last, and said there are upsides and drawbacks to Internet learning.

“It’s a good thing because you don’t like getting called on when you don’t have the answer,” he said. “The bad part is I don’t get to see my friends much.”

He still takes notes like regular class, and can do many of the same things as other students.

“In my science class, I’m going to be doing a lab,” he said. “It’s just like regular school. I can even do P.E. here.

Sahara, 15, and Aspen, 14, of Painted Rock, come to Hillside one day a week to confer with Kilmer and work.

Paul January, the girls’ stepfather, said the situation has worked out well for them.

“It gives them a chance to learn at their own pace,” he said.

The girls are already taking their midterm examinations, which are given on site by Kilmer.

“It’s easier than going to VC and you can get done way quicker,” Aspen said. “In three classes I can take midterms.”

• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at kwoodmansee@nevadaappeal.com or 882-2111 ext. 351.

On the Net

• Silver State High School: http://www.silverstatehs.org

• Washoe Online Learning for the Future: http://www.learnwithwolf.com

• Advanced Academics: http://www.advancedacademics.com

• PLATO Learning: http://www.plato.com

• Odysseyware: http://www.odysseyware.com