Saturday, September 6, 2003
Declining enrollment and decreasing funds forced the South Routt School District to cut jobs and programs, but thanks to a relatively new online instruction program, district high school students have more educational opportunities than ever.
Soroco High School is offering its students 40 courses in several subject areas through Colorado Online Learning. The COL program is a collaborative effort of more than 70 state school districts, the Colorado Department of Education and eCollege, a Web-based learning management system.
For senior Nicole Baxter, the COL program enables her to take courses in biotechnology and advanced-placement calculus -- classes not offered by the 125-student school.
"Schools are limited in what they can offer," Baxter, 17, said. "Sometimes to get to a higher level, you have to look elsewhere."
Every day during first period, Baxter looks to a computer in the school's library for that academic boost. She logs on to the COL system and a page with links to her two courses jumps onto the screen. A click of the mouse takes Baxter into her AP calculus course, where she can join ClassLive, a real-time chat room where she participates in lessons with her teacher and other students from across the state. Assignments, tests and quizzes and notices from the instructor are just a click away.
Only basic computer knowledge is needed to understand the COL system, though dedication is required to pass the courses.
"An online class is unique because you really have to take an active role in the class," Baxter said. "It's hard to squeak by. You have to put in the time."
About 40 Soroco students are enrolled in COL courses, said Alesha Samuelson, the school's COL coordinator. From psychology to anatomy and physiology, students can choose from a list of classes in several subject areas.
COL teachers update Samuelson every week on the progress of Soroco students and alert her if a student is falling behind. According to Principal James Chamb-erlin, Soroco students boasted one of the highest COL success rates last year.
The COL program is a huge boost for a small rural district with dwindling enrollment, Superintendent Steve Jones said.
"As we continue to decline in enrollment and resources, our curriculum is going to continue to narrow," Jones said. "We have to offer opportunities for our students. The idea that a student can take four years of Latin is pretty exciting."
The COL program costs the district about $100 per course per student. Being able to offer such a wide selection of courses at such a small price is well worth it for the district, Jones said. He prefers the COL program to a cyber school because it supplements the public school system as opposed to replacing it.
"Colorado Online Learning is really trying to fill a different niche than cyber schools," Jones said.
All COL courses count for credit and are aligned with the state's content standards.
But the opportunities the COL program provides go far beyond academic credit, Baxter said. It's giving her a leg up as she prepares to go to college, after which she wants to find a career in the field of molecular biology.