By Kim Kalunian, WPRO News
“I’m going to school online.” It’s a phrase that conjures up images of students in pajamas, sitting at home on their couches with laptops balanced on their knees.
But Dr. Rob Pilkington, a licensed superintendent and founder of the RI League of Charter Schools, views virtual learning very differently.
Pilkington’s fourth charter school, Village Green, will be one of Rhode Island’s first virtual high schools. Students will learn through online modules and will only be taught in the traditional method – by a teacher – when they need extra help in a specific subject.
“It’s absolutely the wave of the future,” he said.
The Village Green Virtual Public Charter School has gotten preliminary approval by the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (RIDE), and pending its final approval next month, is set to open in September.
Already, Pilkington said the interest in the school is “keen.”
Initially, the school will enroll 136 students from throughout Rhode Island for 9th and 10th grade. By its third year, the school plans to grow to 11th and 12th grades with an enrollment of 272 students. The school will start with a faculty of 12 certified teachers and five additional staff members, which means the initial student to teacher ratio is about 10:1.
According to the school’s proposal to RIDE, in the 2010-2011 school year, there were 361 virtual charter schools nationwide.
The Village Green plan is not dissimilar to a plan for another digital high school, the Sheila C. "Skip" Nowell Leadership Academy, which has also gotten preliminary RIDE approval and is set to open in September. But unlike Village Green, the Nowell Leadership Academy will offer classes year round. Their blended learning program will allow students to study 15 hours a week both virtually (off site) and on site through computer systems. The school is focused on at-risk stuednts, and will have two locations, one in Central Falls and another in Providence.
TheVillage Green school will take up residence in the former headquarters of the Narragansett Council Boy Scouts of America on Broad Street in Providence, and students would be required to come to class, every day, just like they would at a traditional school. No pajamas. No couches.
The only difference between VIllage Green and any other Rhode Island high school is the way the students learn. Pilkington said students will have a 60/40 split between time spent online and time spent with traditional learning. If a group or individual student is having trouble with a subject, a teacher would take them into a classroom session to address the issues. Then it's back to the online learning module. The typical classrom hierarchy, with a teacher instructing from the front of the class all day, would be no more.
“The teacher’s job really shifts from being the sage on the stage,” he said.
The process of more individualized learning would ensure that all students are progressing at their own speeds, and not at the pace of the group as a whole, said Pilkington.
Despite the new technology and teaching style, “It’s very much school,” he said.
Pilkington said he likes to think of it as a “blended” learning program. The students will work at desktop learning stations in their classrooms, and won’t get laptops to take home. He said they also won’t get something else: homework. Since students will spend so much time on the computer at school (3.5 to 4 hours a day), Pilkington said they’ll ask students to do things offline, like read novels, write papers and finish projects while at home.
“The school encourages them to ‘unplug’ at night,” he said.
Although students have to be accepted, attendance at Village Green is free.
“It’s a public school, 100 percent,” he said.
For more information at Rhode Island’s first virtual high school, visit www.vgonline.org
This story has been updated to include information about the Sheila C "Skip" Nowell Leadership Academy.