Distance Learning

New Hampshire Virtual School Sets up Learning Pathways

An online charter school in New Hampshire is quintupling down on flexibility in how its students structure their learning. The Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (VLACS) serves about 12,000 students with personalized, competency-based education. The school recently introduced a set of five pathways to guide its middle and high school students through multiple routes for demonstrating mastery of competencies:

  • Courses, which consists of standard online course fare from the VLACS catalog;
  • Projects, in which students solve real-world problems through "in-depth research and application";
  • Experience, in which they perform internships, work, travel and service learning;
  • College, in which they earn dual-credit by taking college-level courses; and
  • Teams, expected to be introduced in January, will push students to collaborate on their assignments.

Most VLACS students enroll for part-time study to accelerate their traditional high school programs, retake failed courses, address scheduling conflicts, enhance homeschooling and similar reasons.

Whether they're taking the courses through their brick-and-mortar schools or independently, all students will receive some form of guidance in their selection of a pathway, according to a Christensen Institute interview with VLACS CEO Steve Kossakoski. Part-timers can confer with staff, counselors and instructors. Full-time students must put together a "college, career and citizenship-ready" plan, which lays out how they intend to meet their goals after graduation. That's where the flexibility will come in handy, he said, in order to help them "design a learning plan that responds to their interests, talents and dreams."

In the interview, Kossakoski noted that the planning process for the new pathways required the school to make sure the new approach would fit within its "funding and compensation model."

According to coverage on New Hampshire Public Radio a year ago, VLACS generates about $5,000 per student per year, which reporter Sam Evans-Brown said was less than half the average cost paid to regular schools by the state to educate a student.

Under the new model, Kossakoski said, "The overall amount of time and effort required for each learning pathway is the same, but the percentage of time dedicated to assessment, communication, instruction and support may shift depending on the pathway and the needs of the student."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.