Summer online classes gain in popularity

Budgets cuts and convenience are cited as the biggest reasons behind the rapid growth in virtual summer classes, where all anyone needs is a computer and the Internet.

Statewide enrollment for this summer has increased 17 percent over last summer for Georgia Virtual School, which is run by the state Department of Education, spokesman Matt Cardoza said. The state also offers the virtual Georgia Credit Recovery program, which is free to all public high school students who need to recover credits for graduation. Classes currently are not offered for elementary or middle school students.

Some metro Atlanta school districts offer their own online summer classes. It's up to each district to determine whether their students can use the state programs, said Christina Clayton, Georgia’s director of virtual education.

"Our numbers have increased dramatically over the past year," Clayton said. "I attribute that to a variety of reasons. Our test scores are higher than the state average. We provide options to students they may not be able to have in a traditional classroom because of budget cuts and where they live across the state."

Clayton County, for example, eliminated its traditional summer school program this year. Atlanta public schools offer no virtual summer classes, but will accept credits from students who take classes through the state program, spokesman Keith Bromery said.

Some students take summer classes to catch up; others are trying to get ahead.

Cyd Cox, past president of the Clayton County Council of PTAs,  said the value of virtual programs depends on the student. Her daughter, Kaitlyn, a Jonesboro High School senior, took online classes in math and history last year simply to speed her academic progress.

“It depends on the child and the subject,” Cox said. “My daughter did it to try to get ahead. Some students are motivated; some have to have a teacher to get the details they need. Kids have different learning styles.”

Budget cuts forced Clayton to drop its traditional summer school program, leaving only state online courses that are available through the school district, Clayton schools spokesman Charles White said. Traditional summer classes had cost $175 percent student per course, plus the cost of transportation. The state virtual summer courses  for those attempting to catch up are free, with only a $25 administrative cost that goes to the district. Clayton expects 400 to 500 students to participate in its state online courses this summer.

The Clayton school district will save $1 million by eliminating traditional summer classes. However, each of the county's high schools and the Perry Center in Jonesboro will provide access to computer lab space to complete the online summer program.

The state's credit recovery program is free, but the virtual school is tuition-based, said Christina Clayton, the state administrator. A half-semester course normally taken during the regular school year costs $300 and a year-long course normally taken during the same time frame is $600. Summer classes begin on June 7 and run for six weeks or on June 14 and run for five weeks.

The state virtual program will serve about 1,200 students this summer, and another 600 to 800 students  are expected to register for the credit recovery program. The most popular virtual summer courses are personal fitness, health, math, science and social studies, the state's Clayton said.

Cobb is offering core courses online for students who need them to graduate, Cobb Virtual Academy spokeswoman Becky Nunnally said. The cost is $275 for a half unit and $550 for a unit. Course content is available at all hours during the week and students can move at their own pace. Personal assistance is available online. Cobb has 550 students enrolled for the summer term, which runs May 24-July 7.

“The huge advantage is students can be anywhere,” Nunnally said. “They can visit their grandparents, non-custodial parents or travel overseas. They don’t have to have transportation to get to a school. They can take the classes wherever they are.”

In Fulton, the majority of virtual summer students are those who need to take required courses for graduation but have a hard time fitting them in during the school year, spokeswoman Allison Toller said.

“They could be a member of the band or orchestra, a course they take all year, or they simply want the flexibility during the school year to take additional Advanced Placement courses as an elective,” Toller said.

Tuition is $250 for a half-credit course, and $200 for those eligible for free meals. Fulton also offers individual assistance online.

“The maximum credits we recommend a student earn during the summer is one credit,” Toller said.

Fulton’s summer Virtual Campus will be held June 10-July 22, and 350 students are registered, compared with 1,457 high school students in the traditional summer program.

Gwinnett schools will offer summer online classes on June 14-July 12. Courses cost $275 for a half unit and $550 for a unit. It's clear there is considerable interest.

"We are seeing more students register," Gwinnett spokesman Jorge Quintana said.

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