Students in Aberdeen can take all-online classes starting in fall

A new online course option is coming to the Aberdeen School District this fall, and targets students who aren’t likely to do well in normal school environments but still want to be in the district while learning from home.

Aberdeen High School has been using a program called APEX, which is intended for credit “retrieval” after a student fails or doesn’t complete a course. The new program, labeled as an Alternative Learning Experience (ALE), a term used throughout the state, is completely separate.

District administrators say the new system will help retain students who, due to medical conditions or other reasons, feel they need to leave Aberdeen schools in order to take online classes. Hoquiam already has such a program. It would also allow them to bring in more home school students, said David Glasier, the assistant principal at Aberdeen High School, and the lone administrator who will manage the program that he is designing over the summer.

“This program came into existence for the kid who has a need and can’t attend our district because of it,” he said. “A lot of times it’s a medical thing, and they can’t make it to the brick and mortar school.”

According to Glasier, who briefed school board members at their meeting last week, 74 students left the Aberdeen School District last year so they could take online courses in another district.

He said it’s also a way to add students who are homeschooled and may want to participate in the district’s sports and extracurriculars while taking online classes.

The program the district will use, Odysseyware, is based in Arizona, and used in a number of schools around Washington and the rest of the country. Students would be able to take a full course load of just online classes. The classes would be taught by OSPI-certified teachers reachable by live videos, and would be intended for students in grades 3 through 12.

From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., students would be able to have live video conferences with the teachers to get lectures or assistance, teachers who could be anywhere in the country. After those hours, students would be able to receive pre-recorded videos or resources from the Odysseyware website.

Glasier said it won’t be a program that students can simply sign up for because they want potentially easier classes. However, there’s no policy yet for how student will be screened to qualify for the online classes, something the school board will eventually need to decide.

“That’s going to be a board policy on our end; what’s our target audience?” said Glasier.

So far, he said some students have already contacted him and are interested in taking the new online program, which was approved for development by the school board last week.

“Without any advertisement, I have eight people who have already contacted us saying, ‘We’re very interested in this,’” he said.

But some Aberdeen teachers at last week’s meeting were concerned that the new ALE program will bring similar issues they’ve identified in the high school’s current APEX program.

Pam Caba, a math teacher at Aberdeen High School, said students will sometimes take APEX classes because they are easier, and not just to make up credits. She hopes the new program doesn’t have a similar outcome.

“Students are not just taking (APEX) for credit retrieval now,” said Caba. “They take it for all kinds of reasons. They perceive it as easier when it comes to math. Last week, I had a bunch of future Running Start sophomores planning out when they can take APEX Spanish. I have an issue with taking a foreign language on a computer in a classroom with a support teacher but no Spanish teacher.”

Donna Portmann, who teaches English at the high school, agreed with Caba that some students are taking APEX classes because they’re easier.

“(Those students) aren’t prepared,” she said. “In English, they’re in a classroom without an English teacher and don’t have to write any papers.”

Superintendent Alicia Henderson said she wasn’t aware of students taking APEX classes for anything other than credit retrieval, but that the district would look into whether students take those classes because they’re not as challenging.

Caba was also concerned that the new program would require her to compete for students who could potentially switch to taking online classes.

On Monday, Glasier met with OSPI’s ALE director Anissa Sharratt to go over the logistics for creating Aberdeen’s new program. An important factor, Glasier said, would be staying in compliance with the state’s policies on ALE programs.

According to Glasier, state laws require that in-district online courses provide students with a learning plan to outline how much time they spend logged onto their online classes learning the material, and ensure they’re learning all the material.

Glasier said some districts in the past didn’t consistently follow up to check how students are progressing in their classes, even though students are required to meet once a week and each month in person with a teacher from the district. He hopes to avoid these kinds of issues, and said the number of teachers assigned to the online program would depend on how many students enroll.

Hoquiam’s current ALE program, known as Homelink, has approximately 90 spots each year for students in grades 3 through 12, and is run out of the Grays Harbor YMCA. Bonnie Jump, who runs the program, said students have to go through an application process to determine if Homelink is right for them.

For students already taking normal classes in Hoquiam, Jump said “typically there is a reason for the transfer, such as needing a different schedule or just needing to try something different with their education.”

According to Glasier’s presentation, each individual Odysseyware class will cost the district $250. For each ALE student, it generates 90 percent of the state’s per-pupil apportionment. Because the state pays the district $8,315 for each standard student, ALE students would each generate $7,322.

Glasier is still developing the program and will know more later in terms of the staffing, supplies and technology needed to run it.