Online classes are becoming a more common part of Ketchikan high school students’ schedules. The classes started out at Revilla Alternative School in 2007 and were first introduced at Kayhi in 2010. Ever since, more and more students are choosing to do at least part of their learning online.
On a recent school day, there were about a dozen students sitting at computers in Mark Woodward’s classroom. Woodward is one of four teachers at Kayhi who supports students taking online classes. The classes are offered by a company called Edgenuity. They range from core subjects like English to electives like Health Science.
Cheyenne Savage logs onto the website where she takes all four of her classes.
“Here’s the science class I’m taking,” she says. “There’s the target completion, which is how much you’re supposed to have done. And then it tells you the day you started and when you’re expected to be done with the class.”
Cheyenne is a former Revilla student, now Fast Track – which means she takes all online classes. She was behind in school, but she’s catching up by taking a year’s worth of courses online in just one semester.
“If a student is like me and slacked off earlier in high school, this is pretty much a second chance, if they really want to graduate,” she said.
With the online classes, Cheyenne can choose how much work she does each day. If she wants to, she could earn a half credit in a week with hard work. Through traditional classes at Kayhi, you earn half a credit for a semester-long class.
Across the table from Cheyenne, Kayhi senior Lizzy Riley is working on her psychology class. Lizzy started out taking classes online her sophomore year.
“At the end of my freshman year I got pregnant, and so I did the first semester of normal school at Kayhi, and then couldn’t do it anymore ’cause I was due,” she explained. “I didn’t really want to go to Revilla, so I did Fast Track. I was able to finish a whole semester in about two months, and was able to stay caught up with my class and do more classes than I really need.”
Now Lizzy is back at Kayhi. She’s taking two classroom courses – Government and Medical Terminology — and three online classes.
“I definitely think I learn better online,” Lizzy said. She gave an example — in both her online psychology class and her in-person Medical Terminology class, she was learning about the eye. She was able to understand the teaching better in the psychology class.
“We’re shifting,” teacher Mark Woodward said. “We started [using online classes for] credit recovery, and now a lot of it is credit advancement. So that’s how our numbers are increasing. Because we’re pulling more of that Kayhi base.”
Maddie Robinson, a Kayhi junior, is one of the students Woodward is talking about. She’s taking one online class, Personal Wellness, to free up room in her senior year schedule.
“I like how can work at own pace,”Maddie said. “I’m a good 20 percent ahead right now. If you’ve got a big test coming up or something, you can study. If you’re ahead, you can relax.”
Working at your own pace is one of the main reasons students say they take online classes. They say it gives them more flexibility in their schedule. They can do a lot of work one week and no work at all the next, depending of what else they have happening in their school, home, or work life.
It’s also helpful for students who struggle keeping up with certain subjects, like junior Allen Bohler.
“I realized that I wasn’t doing really good in the English classes with the teacher teachers,” Allen said. “A lot of them, they go pretty fast paced, I like to go my pace. So when I found out about [online courses], I joined it as fast as I can, and now I’m ahead in credits.”
Allen says if he had to take English in a classroom setting, he would probably fall behind or even fail.
For all the students who take online classes, there is a teacher at Kayhi there to support them. Mark Woodward, Leigh Woodward, Dave Mitchel, and Allegra Machado are those teachers. They answer online students’ questions, grade their tests and essays, and keep track of their progress.
In 2011, Alaska’s Learning Network, or AKLN, asked the Ketchikan teachers to serve as support for high school students taking online classes throughout Alaska. That means that Mr. and Mrs. Woodward, Mitchel, and Machado check the quizzes and grade the essays of students not just in Ketchikan, but in Dillingham, Haines, Klawock, and more.
Each year, the number AKLN students taking Edgenuity courses increases. And so does the number of Ketchikan students opting to learn online. For fall semester, there were about 150 Ketchikan students enrolled in Edgenuity courses. The numbers for spring semester aren’t certain yet, but Woodward predicts it’ll double.
This summer, AKLN is sending the Ketchikan teachers to AP training. So next year, students will likely be able to take online versions of Advanced Placement English, Spanish, and Psychology. AP Spanish and Psychology will be new offerings for Ketchikan students. So will other online electives like Nursing Assistant and Engineering Design.