A virtual education: Jeffco schools to offer online degree for high school students

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By Vicky Gits

Jefferson County Public Schools is offering high school students the opportunity to take classes and earn diplomas online, without ever stepping foot in a classroom.

The 21st Century Virtual Academy is a newly created option school within the district. Enrollment is available to all Colorado residents under age 21 for no charge. Classes are accredited and comply with state standards.

“We have Jefferson County students in all sorts of online programs,” said Superintendent Cindy Stevenson. “We think we can do better, and we want them back.” About 800 children are enrolled in some form of online education in Jefferson County, Stevenson said.

The Jeffco program is expected to be self-supporting and will receive a per-pupil subsidy.

Limited to 300 full-time and part-time participants, the program begins this fall with high school level and will eventually expand to include kindergarten through grade 8.

The market for online classes includes students who fail a course, who want to take higher-level classes or who want to graduate early. Older students and dropouts are also likely to be attracted to the program, as well as gifted and talented elementary students who want to take high school classes.

Start-up resources include a guidance counselor, instructional coach and a staff of about a dozen people.

The online classes allow students to study at their own pace and in their own setting, and gives parents online access to check grades and student progress.

Students can study full-time and receive a Jeffco high school diploma, attend part-time while attending classes at another school, or take supplemental classes to catch up on credits.

The program is unique in that most other online schools are managed by charter schools or smaller districts and can’t provide the “Verizon experience,” said Audie Rubin, director of the Virtual Academy.

“The message is, there are thousands who make sure the call goes through,” Rubin said. “In most online programs, the bench isn’t very deep.” Jeffco is the largest school district in the state.

The program is set up so that kids can take all their classes or just one class to make up a deficiency. The program office is on the fourth floor of the education center in Golden off I-70.

“Over the last few years, each year a few hundred students have withdrawn and enrolled in online schools in other districts. We are sending a message to those who live in Jeffco to say you don’t have to leave,” Rubin said.

Rubin, 35, is a former teacher and administrator with the Colorado Virtual Academy, where he launched the middle and high school programs. He was also an assistant principal at Bear Creek for one year.

For more information, visit www.jeffcopublicschools.org/online or call 303-982-6770.

Contact Vicky Gits at 303-350-1042 or vicky@evergreenco.com.

21st Century Virtual Academy curriculum

The academy offers core subjects like math, English, social studies and science. There are also elective classes such as video game design, outdoor adventure and Chinese. Courses include interactive exercises, videos, reading assignments, assessments, live and recorded classroom discussion. All courses are aligned to state standards and meet Jeffco Public Schools’ curricular expectations. Students receive personal attention from teachers through phone calls, e-mail and class discussions. Full- and part-time enrollment is tuition-free for all Colorado high school students ages 14 to 20.