Waldorf, MD – Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) will launch a Virtual Academy (VA) for high school sophomores, juniors and seniors to provide face-to-face instruction coupled with online classes.

The program, slated to begin at the start of the 2016-17 school year, is housed at the Robert D. Stethem Educational Center. Students are required to come to the center for five consecutive hours from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. No classes will be held on Fridays.

Former carpentry classroom space on Stethem’s campus is being converted for use as the VA, with rooms designated for computer labs. Other rooms will be used for more traditional classrooms, outfitted with smart boards that are compatible with tablets used by students. The academy will use APEX Learning software, a leader in blended and virtual learning, with initially 30 to 40 students enrolled, said Lynne Arnold, principal of Stethem. “The option for online courses is like online college,” she said. “It fits lifestyles and needs. It’s more flexible. It’s just another way for students to access their education.” By attending classes at the center, students will have teacher support and “direct instruction,” Arnold added.

“One size no longer fits all,” said Amy Hollstein, assistant superintendent of instruction. “The Virtual Academy will allow students flexibility in choosing a time schedule of when to attend the academy. Teachers will be able to personalize instruction for individual students by using prescriptive features in the online courses, and online tutorials will offer instruction and practice based on individual need.  The online courses will also provide real world application of content and skills, preparing students for college and careers in the 21st century.”

VA students are those who want a diploma but may not thrive in a traditional school, Arnold said. They might have a job and need a more fluid schedule to work around their hours; they may be a young parent who needs to arrange childcare; or have other issues that make going to other high schools inconvenient or impossible.

When planning the VA, Arnold and others asked Stethem students for their input. At a Georgia school much like the academy, students study a subject for five hours a day, four days a week for 20 days. At the end of 20 days, the students have the credit. Stethem students bristled at that model, Arnold said. They couldn’t imagine working on one subject all day for the better part of a month. Courses offered at the VA will be English, Earth and space science, biology, chemistry, algebra, geometry, U.S. and world history, personal financial literacy, Foundations of Technology, psychology, sociology, health, fitness, art appreciation and world languages. Tests will be taken and requirements will have to be met to move forward, Arnold said.

Teachers will be hired to work 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and, like students, have Fridays off. Instructors will be needed to teach English, science, math and history. For other subjects, like languages that don’t have a designated teacher, a Stethem teacher will be called in to help VA students, Arnold said.

Students will be required to complete the same standards as those at other high schools in the county, but using slightly different means. They still have the same graduation requirements. “Education is changing, our students are changing, our families are changing,” Arnold said. “We have to change.”

VA graduates will receive a diploma and just like many of their peers, it is expected that many will go to college, Arnold said.

Among the VA requirements, students must agree to remain at the academy until the end of the current school year, then they can transfer back to their home school the following year if they choose. They must provide their own transportation and full-time students can not participate in sports or extracurricular activities at their home schools.

Charles County Public Schools provides 26,300 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 36 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.

The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Dr. Patricia Vaira, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Pamela K. Murphy, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.