E-School: Online classes becoming normal part of education

<p>Laurabeth Brandhagen, center in purple, sings during a choir class on Thursday at Pendleton High School.</p>

As the world continues to shift online, high school education is also becoming more virtual.

On a typical school day, Laurabeth Brandhagen, 15, gets up around 6:30 a.m., showers, breakfasts and arrives at Pendleton High School around 8:30 for choir.

After lunch, she returns home, sits in front of her computer and logs into class from noon to 3 p.m.

Brandhagen is getting her high school education through online courses at the virtual charter school Oregon Connections Academy, which was founded in 2005. For music classes and activities like track and field, she goes to Pendleton High.

Brandhagen said that after her freshman year at PHS, she told her parents traditional school wasn’t working out. She was irritated by disruptive classmates and teenage drama, and now enjoys working on assignments in her own comfortable home.

“I like it 100 percent more,” she said.

Most of her online classes require reading texts and answering multiple choice questions in order to advance to the next level. She’s looking forward to taking dual-credit courses so she’ll be able to graduate with an associate’s degree at the same time she earns her high school diploma.

“I don’t have an issue with families going that route if they think that’s the best thing for their kids,” said Jon Peterson, Pendleton School District superintendent. But he worries virtual education can suffer in quality.

“We do see some kids that have gone that route and then they return to us and that’s what we hear them saying,” he said.

Brandhagen’s parents, Kathy and David, said self-discipline isn’t much of an issue. Brandhagen’s mother, who works from home, is her designated learning coach, so she oversees her daughter’s progress every day.

Peterson said he’d like to have the resources to offer online classes through Pendleton, but the school has other budget priorities.

Elsewhere in the county, Hermiston is gearing up to become more virtual to compete for the students drawn to alternative schooling.

By 2013, Hermiston High School students should be able to select online classes along with traditional ones.

Hermiston Superintendent Wade Smith said the district is offering online classes in part to keep students who might be tempted by charter schools, but also because the future is online.

“Some schools are putting their head under the sand hoping this online fad will go away,” Smith said. “This is not a fad, this is an explosion of interest.”

He said one statistic predicts that by 2019, 50 percent of all high school courses will be delivered online.

Online courses will help Hermiston offer classes like Advanced Placement French or Mandarin Chinese, things that one or two students might be interested in but the school can’t afford to hire a teacher for.

“What we can offer, that none of the virtual schools can offer, is the best of both worlds,” Smith said.

With studies showing the ability to communicate and work with people is a hugely important trait for job seekers, he believes the brick-and-mortar classroom experience will be hard to replace.

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