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Hall County Schools' online classes start slowly
System identifies next classes Virtual Academy will add
West Hall junior Katie Forrester takes an online Spanish course during her sixth-period time slot Friday afternoon. She joins others in the Hall County School System who are also taking online classes.

Over the summer, Hall County Schools announced it would offer two virtual classes to students: Spanish I and health.

The goal was to provide a flexible way to fulfill class requirements.

So far, 46 students have signed up — 45 of those for Spanish.

“I think, first of all, it’s very interactive,” said Wes Vonier, a Spanish teacher at Chestatee High School who is running one of the online Spanish courses. “Some of the lessons and activities (the students are) doing on the computer are way past what they would be doing in the book. I wouldn’t say it tricks them into learning, but it’s more interesting at times.”

His roster includes between 25 and 30 students from seven different schools.

Students can register for the classes through HALLCOnnect, the system’s online learning database, much like they would for classes taught in higher education.

While in the class, students can communicate to the teacher and classmates via messaging, audio and even live video.

The classes can be taken for free during regular school hours in place of a traditional class or taken on top of a full load, with $150 for a half unit and $250 for a full unit.

The majority of the students are taking the classes during their normal schedule, including Katie Forrester, a junior at West Hall High School.

Forrester, who is the only student at her school to use the online resource, said the class allows her “to work at (her) own pace.”

“I’m actually horrible at foreign languages,” said Forrester, who started the class almost a week after school began. “So I thought if I did it online I wouldn’t have a classroom of students judging me, and I can do it on my own and on my own pace.”

Forrester said she’s already weeks ahead of schedule and plans to finish about halfway through the semester.

“So this is truly asynchronous, so students can come in and work at their own pace and finish when they need to,” said Aaron Turpin, executive director of technology for the system.

During sixth period, Forrester brings her laptop into her soccer coach’s office to take the class.

“I think it’s awesome,” she said. “I think more kids should do it, for sure.”

Vonier said some of his students had a small issue with adapting to the format, but said it didn’t take long for them to figure it out.

“I think it’s something that prepares them for the future,” he said. “I think it’s going to be something that’s expected of all students, if not now, then when they hit college.”

Turpin said the system has already identified additional courses that could join the Hall County Virtual Academy.

“I’m hesitant to say what will be offered next semester, because we’re still learning things, but we have identified our next courses,” Turpin said. Economics, world and British literature, math and Spanish II are all slated to go virtual.

“These are the courses that we’ve identified as the greatest need,” he said. “So our development is being driven by the needs of the students.”

He expects the program to continue to gain interest, but said the system is deliberately starting off slow.

“This is going to grow 100-fold in the next five years,” Turpin said. “Obviously, when you’re doing something new you want to focus on quality, not quantity.”

Forrester hopes to see the program grow, hopefully while she still has a chance to use it.

She said if Spanish II is available, she would sign up for it immediately.

And Vonier, who is taking an online class himself, said it will likely open up to more students across more subjects.

“I see where every student has the ability or the option to take an online class, not just for Spanish or health,” he said. “This is the wave of the future.”

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