Regional
2:27 pm
Mon December 3, 2012

Full-Time Online Learning Comes To Las Cruces

Five high school students with very different educational needs and backgrounds are blazing a new trail for Las Cruces Public Schools. What they have in common is that all five are 100 percent online students – they “attend” all of their classes over the internet.

 And, there are more Las Cruces students waiting to follow in their footsteps, including students who: 1) have full-time jobs who want to stay in school but need the flexibility of instruction available at night and on weekends; 2) are advanced learners who want to graduate early, have scheduling conflicts, want to take more elective courses than a regular school day will allow or want to take courses not offered at their home school; 3) are homebound because of illness or disability or because they must provide care for a loved one; 4), learn better in a distraction-free environment; 5) are preparing for or participating in fine arts or athletics events that take them outside the school district, the state and/or the country; 6) are traveling with their parents or student groups.

LCPS already has more than 500 students taking at least one online course. A “blended” curriculum – taking some courses in regular classrooms and some online – is increasingly common for LCPS students. In fact, a new state law makes taking at least one online or honors or dual-credit class a graduation requirement.

But offering students the opportunity to take all their classes and earn all the credits they will need to get a high school diploma outside of a regular classroom and beyond the traditional school day is a new pathway for the school district.

“Public education is changing because the needs of our students are changing,” said Superintendent Stan Rounds. “We have to give them more options. Our goal is to create a virtual program that makes curriculum and instruction available 24/7, 12 months out of the year rather than just during a regular school day about nine months out of the year,” he said.

“Most students still want and need at least some direct interaction with teachers and other students on a daily basis,” said LCPS Online Coordinator Dr. Marcy Oxford. “But a growing number of our students need the flexibility of online learning, and we are making it available to them through online courses,” she said

“As with all the courses we offer, we have to make sure that all online courses are preparing our students to succeed in higher education and the workforce. In meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse student population and expanding their educational opportunities, we still must deliver distance courses that are relevant and rigorous. And, we have to make sure participating students have the self-discipline – and the school guidance and parental support – to successfully complete online courses. We have to meet their academic, physical and emotional needs in a whole new way,” she said.

Students will be considered for full-time online enrollment if they read at a minimum eighth-grade level, have the willingness and ability to work independently, have a 2.0 or higher grade point average, and if their attendance and behavior records indicate they would be successful. Students can apply for online courses or full-time online instruction at their school counseling offices.

“We are not targeting any particular group for participation,” said Oxford. “Rather, we are creating a program that offers many opportunities to many students of different backgrounds and needs,” she said.

LCPS already has two full-time online teachers: one teaching mathematics (Stacy Alley) and one teaching science (Amy Ewing). In addition, there are more than 20 adjunct staff who teach some online courses inside or outside their regular school-day assignments. Mayfield, Oñate, San Andres and Arrowhead Park Early College high schools also have online classes built into their schedules. All six LCPS high schools have their own online coordinators, learning coaches and a dedicated distance learning lab.

The school district’s goal is for every student to have at least one online class and a majority of blended classes by the time he or she graduates. That includes making online classes available to students at all grade levels.

And, it means increased training not only for online teachers, but for all staff. “Part of this new initiative is to provide teachers with the professional development needed to expand the scope and depth of their instructional skills,” said Oxford. “Blended classrooms will give teachers more time for meaningful small-group and one-on-one interaction – more personalized learning,” said Oxford.

“Online education is becoming the norm across the country and around the world because it offers students so many great opportunities for success,” said Oxford. “In its early stages, it offers many challenges and tremendous rewards as we prepare our students to excel in higher education and an increasingly complex workforce, and to be proficient consumers, capable leaders and contributing members of society,” she said.  

For more information, contact Oxford at 575.527.6622 or marcy@lcps.k12.nm.us.