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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Virtual High School Success Stories in Rural Illinois

Below are the remarks delivered by Matthew Wicks, Associate Director for Operations at the Illinois Virtual High School to a recent town hall meeting hosted by Senator Durbin.
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Good morning. I am Matthew Wicks, Associate Director for Operations at the Illinois Virtual High School. I would like to take this opportunity to tell you a little bit about IVHS, a program operated by the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy for the Illinois State Board of Education; a program that has been providing tremendous opportunities for students in rural communities and throughout Illinois since 2001.
IVHS is all about providing opportunities. We provide opportunities for students to take a course that isn’t offered at their local schools, either because there isn’t enough demand or the school hasn’t been able to hire a qualified teacher. We provide opportunities for students who have not been academically successful in an area, by providing a different approach to teaching and learning. We provide opportunities for students in the summer to accelerate their pace by taking additional courses or perhaps instead to allow the student to stay on pace by re-taking a failed course. This has become increasingly important as fewer schools offer summer school. We provide opportunities for a homebound student to have regular instruction in a quality curriculum.
Ok, you get the theme – we provide opportunities and these opportunities are made possible by the Internet. Students take these classes online, receiving instruction from a certified Illinois teacher and interacting with their classmates from around the state. The students communicate using email, discussion boards and internet messaging as well as a web-conferencing system that combines voice communication, desktop video chat capability, a shared whiteboard for presentations and the ability to share computer desktops for demonstrations.
The quality of online learning is degraded by a slow or unreliable connection to the internet, both at school and at home and IVHS students learn both at school and at home. Over the past 10 years great progress has been made connecting k-12 schools through broadband to the internet, although many schools are now facing connectivity shortfalls because of the use of new kinds of learning content like streaming video, simulations, modeling, and collaborative workspaces. The “bandwidth problem” becomes even more acute when we look at the bandwidth shortfall that rural students face at home, knowing that rural communities have ½ the broadband connectivity as urban and suburban areas. Rural online students do not have the same opportunity to learn as their urban and suburban classmates.
While I could go on for quite some time about the impact of IVHS as we have provided over 9,000 course enrollments over the past 5 years, I will tell just a few stories that demonstrate the value of these opportunities to show why it is important to invest in IVHS and the broadband infrastructure that is necessary to maximize online learning. There are the two boys from a rural town in central Illinois that were enrolled in an alternative high school for that area. These boys had come to view a D as success. They took an IVHS online history course and decided to compete to see who could earn the most points in the course. Not only did both of these boys pass, they both earned an A. In the second semester, they continued on and this time there was a girl from their community who was also having difficulty in her school enrolled in the course. While, we may never know their exact motivation for helping this new student, the end result was that all three students succeeded and were back on track to complete high school.
There is the girl, a competitive Olympic athlete who had started German at her high school but was away from school frequently for training. She utilized IVHS to successfully complete a second year in German so that she met the college admission requirement of 2 years of the same foreign language.
Both of these stories are stories that show how IVHS assisted students in completing high school and preparing for college. However, this last story is one of my favorites because of its uniqueness. A 50-year old businessman that had never graduated from high school took an IVHS online English course and obtained his high school diploma, in the process, providing an incredible example to the other students in the course.
IVHS makes a difference and will continue to make a difference by providing ALL Illinois students expanded opportunities to learn. Let’s make sure that everyone, including the students in rural Illinois has access to the technology required by programs such as IVHS.

Remarks of Matthew Wicks, Associate Director for Operations of the Illinois Virtual High School, given at a town hall meeting on August 25, 2006 organized by Senator Durbin at SIU-Carbondale

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