Success of Online Learning in Hackettstown Spurs Interest Around New Jersey

February 11, 2013

HACKETTSTOWN — Online learning was the subject of a presentation at the high school on Feb. 7.

Representatives from schools state-wide attended the informational session, where Hackettstown High School staff and students discussed their experiences participating in the Virtual High School (VHS) program, an online program where students and teachers from around the world share classrooms together online.

Hackettstown High School currently has 96 students enrolled in the program. The cost varies from school to school depending on how many students and teachers are involved in the program. At Hackettstown the fee is $150 per student, said the school’s VHS coordinator, Sarah Domick.

"There is no hiding in the back row; there is no avoiding me."

Some of the most popular courses, not otherwise offered at the high school, include web design, entrepreneurship and computer-aided design, she said.

The program is staffed by high school teachers around the world. Hackettstown High School has two teachers who have undergone VHS training and teach classes online through the program.

In VHS, students comment on each other's work and can send messages directly to teachers for one-on-one guidance. Students submit work online using a "dropbox" tool. Teachers are required to respond to messages within 24 hours and grade work within one week of its submission.

Victoria Regis, a teacher at the high school who teaches mythology online, said that any perception of easiness, for either staff or students, is inaccurate.

“It’s not for the weary,” she said.

Regis praised the program for its international community and de-emphasis of appearance.

“There’s no judgment. You don’t see what the kids are wearing. You don’t know if they’re jock or if they're goth or if they have twelve earrings or green hair.”

Heather Stem, who teaches creative writing both at the high school and online, also enjoys the online component of the program.

“There is no hiding in the back row; there is no avoiding me.”

Sydney Leff, who took sociology online, said the course helped her prepare as well. “We need those skills because we’re not always going to have people reminding us we need to turn our work in.”

Courses are guaranteed to meet national standards and all class sizes are maxed out at 25 students, said Bob Redmon, the school’s previous VHS coordinator.

Director of Guidance from DePaul Catholic High School, John Galka, said he was interested to see if the program would be a good fit for that high school, where every student is equipped with a laptop.

At DePaul, parents can see grades and check assignments online. Galka said the program could be “another piece of the puzzle."

Frank Helies, assistant superintendent of the North Hunterdon-Voorhees School District, said he was impressed by the presentation.

“The reason we came was we’re looking for some specific avenues to increase the online presence of our kids,” he said, citing state-wide discussions regarding requiring a certain amount of online learning.

“We wanted to jump ahead of the talk in Trenton about maybe mandating that for all high school kids.”