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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Through partnerships, NH students get access to online education at high school and college level

In the wake of concerns about dropout rates, low test scores and college readiness, the state’s lone virtual charter school offers alternative routes for success.

New Hampshire’s Virtual Learning Academy Charter School attracts students with a more individualized approach to education. ...

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In the wake of concerns about dropout rates, low test scores and college readiness, the state’s lone virtual charter school offers alternative routes for success.

New Hampshire’s Virtual Learning Academy Charter School attracts students with a more individualized approach to education.

Academy CEO Steve Kossakoski said their students have diverse motivations for enrolling.

“There seems to be no stereotypical type of student. A lot of students are looking to accelerate. We have middle school students taking high school classes. We also have kids who are really struggling and might be behind retake a course, or part of a course,” said Kossakoski.

The Exeter-based academy opened in January 2008 with 700 enrollments. The virtual academy currently serves more than 20,000 enrollments and about 12,000 students, according to Kossakoski. Each “enrollment” represents a half-credit segment, with a full course equaling one credit. Full-time students take six credits.

Most students take online coursework on top of their regular middle school or high school curriculum. He said demographics are fairly predictable, with more students coming from higher population areas such as Manchester and Nashua, but those students come from different types of education programs. The student body is 65 percent public school, 23 percent homeschool, 5 percent full-time virtual academy, 3 percent dropouts and 1 percent charter students.

The academy partnered with the Community College System of New Hampshire in 2009 to offer the eStart program. The program offers 100 percent online college-level courses taught by community college faculty for high school students. In exchange for a small tuition and the price of the course textbook, students simultaneously receive high school and college credit.

Ed Symes, eStart Program Coordinator, said the program gives students a head start on college while they’re still in high school.

“They’re getting a very good college experience. It also gives them a good feeling on their college abilities … and looks good on college transcripts,” said Symes.

A substantial benefit, particularly where parents are concerned is the potential to save on college costs, said Symes. For instance, he said a community college English composition course costs $800, while the same course can be taken through eStart for $150.

Symes said student interest has grown by about 80 percent since the program began in 2009, but total enrollment numbers are still fairly low.

“We’re talking about 125 to 130 every semester.”

Students register for
eStart from schools across New Hampshire.

“It’s pretty diversified across the state … we (get) a pretty good percentage of homeschool students because it works well with their programs.”

But, he said, lower socioeconomic areas have not seen much enrollment because students don’t have sufficient computer access. He said academy officials are interested in finding ways to grant more access to those students.

The virtual academy has rolling enrollment and accepts New Hampshire middle and high school students applications up to age 21 for free. Out-of-state students can apply with tuition. The academy meets federal requirements for a graduating public high school and is approved by the state and U.S. Department of Education.

Kossakoski said transferring credits to New Hampshire high schools has gone smoothly, with many schools embracing their relationship with VLACS. “We have really been pleased with the support,” he said.

Symes said many high school students may not know about eStart, and they’re working on getting the word out. Interested students can speak to their schools or contact Symes directly at esymes@ccsnh.edu or 717-5965. Students can register for fall courses now. The eStart catalog includes a range of offerings from medical terminologies, history, computers and math to music and foreign language.

Tina Forbes can be reached at 594-6402 or tforbes@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Forbes on Twitter (@Telegraph_TinaF).