For some students, virtual can be best educational fit

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Nathan Brown is one of the increasing number of virtual students. He is shown working on classes at the Beloit Public Library. Brown said he prefers the online courses to large class sizes at Beloit Memorial High School.

BELOIT — Although Beloit Memorial High School wasn’t a good fit for Nathan Brown, virtual school in the School District of Beloit has helped him improve his performance.

His mother Mary Brown was concerned about class sizes at BMHS. Now she’s very pleased with the district’s efforts to guide her son through its virtual school program.

“I’m grateful because the school district has been amazing. They are fully supportive of whatever we need to do,” Mary Brown said.

Nathan, 16, said his biggest problem at BMHS was learning in class. Because of large class sizes and a few unruly students, paying attention was difficult for him.

“It’s hard to pay attention with 30-plus kids. Four to five kids would be loud, obnoxious, and trouble-making and taking away from my learning,” Nathan said.

Mary Brown said her son was generally overwhelmed with the school’s environment. For Nathan, the halls were too crowded during passing times with sometimes unkind students. The bright lights and general loudness also impacted Nathan.

Mary’s younger son still attends BMHS and is doing well. But, for Nathan, the fit wasn’t right.

The last straw came on Sept. 30 of 2015 when a 14-year-old boy was wounded in the hip by gunfire after a large fight broke out just before noon in the parking lot of Taco John’s. Nathan and a friend had been eating inside the restaurant that day.

Nathan started virtual school in February and found it was a big learning curve for him and his mother. Mary works 10 hours a day, and said keeping on top of it all was and still is a challenge. However, she credits Director of Student Engagement Jen Paepke for being available via cell phone at all times with any questions or concerns. Mary Brown and Paepke keep in touch regularly to reassess how the experience is going and if the virtual option is still best for Nathan.

Many of the online classes are held live at a specific time with students having the ability to write in questions and interact with the instructor. If a student misses a course at the time slot, the student can do it another time. Mary, who has watched some of the online courses, said the teachers are excellent at explaining material and responsive to student questions.

“The math teacher on the virtual school is one of the best math teachers I’ve ever heard,” she said.

Although there are deadlines for the course work, it’s flexible and Nathan can do it at a convenient time. He doesn’t have to worry about missing class if something comes up.

The past year, Nathan has been doing most of the work at home. Although he sees his BMHS friends at his church youth group, his mother is having him do more work at the Beloit Public Library to get out of the house. The family is also looking at getting a YMCA membership to expand his socialization and activities. While Mary’s younger son is more outgoing and needs to see lot of people daily, she said Nathan is OK going a couple days without seeing friends and has been content to catch up with them at church.

Nathan said virtual school can be stressful, but he still prefers it to traditional school. He said he’s satisfied and is getting better grades. His favorite online class is personal finance.

Paepke said the School District of Beloit uses Fuel Education Company for its virtual education programming - K12 Online Learning and PEAK Education System. The majority of students who have open enrolled out in Beloit have gone to the Wisconsin Virtual Academy in McFarland.

Paepke noted that all online teachers communicate with students and families by email, and have office hours for phone conversations or even live chats. Tutoring sessions are available as well.

“Feedback from students who have been involved over this past year has given us a good picture of the range of experiences. As expected, virtual school is not right for everyone, but provides another option in our growing menu of opportunities for students in the School District of Beloit,” she said. “We are proud to work closely with all schools in the district to get to know students and families well, and work together to create educational opportunities that are a great fit, and for a growing group, the virtual school has opened another door.”

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