Virtual High School: Just Because It’s Not Offered at RHS, Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Available

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Christopher Trinh |'16

The fourth period bell rings. The noise in the hallways begins to escalate as kids begin heading to their last classes. Tuyen Tran, a senior, walks out of his AP Environmental class. Exhausted, he complains about the recent final he had just taken and shakes his hand to alleviate the cramp he has from writing so much. After waving goodbye to some of his classmates, he heads down the stairwell, passing by a couple of his friends, each of them heading to math class, English class, physics class, psychology class. But Tuyen wasn’t going to any classroom right now. He was going to the Learning Commons.

“That’s strange,” you might be thinking. “Does he have a free period?”

Quite the opposite, actually. Tuyen’s heading to his VHS class, “Genes and Disease.”

Virtual High School, also known as VHS, is a new course of study in which there is not just one class to take, but hundreds. Each of them is available for aspiring juniors and seniors, and on top of that, each course is tailored to unique topics that Revere High School does not offer in its course catalogue, making it not only an alternative for students but also perhaps even one that some might prefer over traditional classrooms.

But what definitely makes VHS stand out from a standard classroom is the amount of freedom offered to each student.

“Taking VHS has greatly increased my ability to work individually without relying on others,””

— Manuela Giraldo

says Manuela Giraldo, a senior who took VHS this past fall. “I really appreciate that I’m not constantly being told what to do, but instead I have a responsibility to do my work without messing around too much.” She opens up a new tab on her browser and enters the VHS portal site into the search bar. “It’s good to be independent every once in awhile,” she says.

Of course, this new freedom comes with a price. Since there is no teacher to make sure students stay on top of their work, it is easy for students to get sidetracked by other distractions and forget about finishing assignments. Each VHS course essentially poses the same question to each student: “Do you know how to manage your time?”

“Time management has been vital for me in doing well in my VHS course,” says Shamim Butt Garcia, a senior who took VHS Statistics the past fall. In a VHS course, each new chapter is taught in a week, which begins on Wednesday and ends the following Tuesday. If students aren’t doing all their work, they might be surprised when they open up the VHS portal on Tuesday and find out they have eight assignments left to finish. “Assignments are due on specific dates, and if you miss one, it’s really easy to fall behind,” she warns.

However, some students haven’t taken such a liking to VHS courses, for a variety of reasons. For example, Cheyanne Fullen expressed her dislike for the lack of teacher-student interaction in her VHS class. “Personally, I would rather choose a traditional classroom because I feel that with VHS, if you have a problem or something that you’re having trouble with, you don’t have anyone to go to and explain it to you in person if you don’t understand. Even if you can look it up, it’s still difficult to understand,” she states.

Cheyanne isn’t the only student who feels that way; some students even feel that these VHS courses contain a lack of differentiation, especially when it comes to meeting each student’s academic needs. It is important to note that this problem is not often an issue in a traditional classroom. Justin Lee, a high-achieving senior, voices his opinion in the matter.

“There’s no direct teacher-to-student interaction, and I find that the most difficult part of a course,” says Justin. “Other than that, I also find that some of the classes are misleading in the contents that they promise, and I know in my case, I was taking French Language and Culture, but it was so inappropriately named because we learned not enough French for it to be even considered an introductory course…” While he has self-studied the French language before, this course only repeated what he had already learned, making his experience less valuable than, say, those who have no prior knowledge of the French language.

Sometimes, students are just simply not comfortable with the general nature of a VHS course. As almost all of the work is done online, there will be times when the dynamic of the online community is not as effective as a physical one. Angelisa Nguyen, a senior who took a course in Criminology, feels this way. “For VHS, it does get very lonely because you’re not actually working with anybody next to you but online instead, so there’s that part where it’s very awkward trying to communicate with your teacher and your other classmates,” Angelisa mentions. “So sometimes, there is that wall that you have to try to get over when you have to ask your questions and ask for help, and that was hard.” She begins to print out the lesson packet that she has to read over the next week. “I would only recommend VHS if you’re very independent and you can motivate yourself to learn on your own,” she advises.

In addition to the opinions that students may have on the topic of virtual education, teachers might bring another stance to the subject. Such is the case with Ms. Andreoni, a former teacher at Revere High School, who believes that VHS courses require students to shift their mindset.  

“In order to be successful in a VHS class, students must be self-starters. They must be willing to take ownership of and responsibility for their own learning,” Ms. Andreoni stated over email. “The VHS teacher is not going to chase down students who aren’t submitting work; instead, the students are expected to turn in the work at various points during the week, no questions asked.”

As a teacher who really enjoyed teaching VHS classes, she recounts her experience meeting various students from other areas of the country within her own twelve years of teaching. Nowadays, Ms. Andreoni is teaching online courses again in a one-on-one fashion. “I love teaching [traditional] classes, but VHS classes offer me more flexibility, which is what I’m looking for at this stage of my career,” she mentions. “VHS classes will always experience some difficulties not experienced in a [traditional] class, namely technical problems that are easily overcome when students and teachers are face-to-face. But beyond that, students control their schedules so it’s easier when it comes to time management.”

Students can choose to take VHS classes next year by enrolling with their guidance counselor before the end of the year.

“A VHS class is definitely not a good choice for students who need a lot of reminders and prodding to do their work,” Ms. Andreoni adds.