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Robotics. Animation. Biotech. German. Italian. Although these five courses are not available at WCHS, WCHS students will still be able to take them in the 2022-2023 school year. How? Through one of MCPS’ expanding virtual learning platforms: MCPS Online Learning.
Also known as Online Pathways, the MCPS Online Learning program is separate from the recently-established Montgomery Virtual Academy (MVA). While the Virtual Academy has mostly full-time virtual students that treat it as their home school, Online Learning students take their chosen online courses while attending their regular in-person school. Students enrolled in these courses are in a blended virtual environment, pairing approximately two hours per week of synchronous instruction with asynchronous learning.
Beginning next school year, this program will be scaling up. Following the success of the Virtual Academy, which currently serves 2,735 students in grades K-12, including students who wanted to enroll in an MVA course as a complement to their in-person studies, the Board of Education has decided that expanding this aspect of county-wide virtual learning is an important step to take.
“The Virtual Academy is part of MCPS’ commitment to access opportunity and equity for all students,” Cassandra Heifetz, the Dean of the Virtual Academy’s Lower School (K-6), said. “It was also quickly seen as a way to expand the range of learning options for students and families for whom COVID-19 was not the primary factor to choose virtual learning.”
MCPS Online Learning will offer credit-bearing courses for credit recovery, grade improvement or original credit. Although the number of options is expected to increase as the platform becomes more experienced, various AP courses, electives and world language courses are in the works for the 2022-2023 school year. Starting from the core grade-level English and math classes to less common classes, like Early Childhood Education and SAT Prep, students at WCHS will have the opportunity to explore their interests in new directions.
“Even though I’m okay with all the courses offered at WCHS, I know that not everyone is,” WCHS sophomore Aliza George said. “Online learning is definitely a good way to fill the gaps between the classes students want but aren’t able to take.”
Aside from the benefits of having more learning options, by connecting students from across the county in shared classes, opportunities outside the classroom are being created. Countywide student advocacy remains an essential part of student life, but not every student participates. Having the chance to interact with students from other schools and situations encourages productive debate and positive change.
“MCPS is full of extremely talented, skilled, and dedicated professionals committed to teaching, learning and ensuring the best for all students,” Heifetz said. “Our students and families also have very important stories to tell and perspectives to share. The more we have opportunities to listen to and connect with one another and collaborate on shared interests, the more we can learn from each other and create the best possible educational experiences for our students.”
However, the growth of Online Learning does not mean that the Virtual Academy will be taking a backseat. The 2022-2023 student application for the Academy is now available through ParentVUE, and MCPS has said that the program will continue to expand its infrastructure, services and flexibility, particularly for high school students.
“The exciting thing about innovation is that you can never really know what is yet to come,” Heifetz said. “Regardless of the size, scale, or scope of the Virtual Academy, I believe the Virtual Academy will continue to play an important role in MCPS.”
As both the Virtual Academy and MCPS Online Learning are set to play a prominent role in student education going forward, it can be seen that MCPS is taking steps to eradicate the educational barriers in the underrepresented and underfunded schools within the county. As many students look excitedly towards the next school year to see what new paths are being offered, there is also anticipation about how these options will continue to grow in future years as well.
“Building something from the ground up takes time, and as we ‘mature’ as a program, I am confident we will build on our success, learn from our challenges, and continue to vision for the future!” Heifetz said.