SHERIDAN — Students across Sheridan County school districts are taking advantage of increasing online learning opportunities, which both complement existing in-person classes and offer entirely new elective opportunities.
Students in Sheridan County School District 1 schools have access to all of the courses currently offered by the online provider Acellus Academy, according to Big Horn Middle School principal Richard Welch. The schools can use the courses at whatever level they choose to meet the needs of students.
“We’ve basically got an unlimited license that we can use it for a semester, a quarter, a whole year. We can use it for credit recovery, exploratory, extra practice at night,” Welch said.
Welch said the middle school decided to start using the system last year to offer additional electives and to give students the chance to learn online before high school to see if they like it.
Currently, Big Horn Middle School students are enrolled in Spanish 1, French 1, American history, personal finance, ancient civilization, electrical technology, medical terminology and mathematics.
There are 23 middle school students enrolled in Acellus courses, which students take during the exploratory period in the final hour of the day. Nine take them on Monday and Wednesday and 14 on Tuesday and Thursday, according to Welch. Last year there were about 15 students taking Acellus classes.
The courses consist of short video modules with quizzes at the end of the lessons that then personalize the necessary review work.
Eighth-grader Drew Heermann took electrical technology last year and is taking Spanish 1 online through Acellus this year to complement his in-class instruction from Welch. Heermann said the combination of grammar and vocabulary online with culture and expressions in-person worked well and helped him learn.
“They were both really in depth, they both really helped me out,” Heermann said.
Heermann said he’s a hands-on and visual learner and said the visual component was especially helpful for Spanish vocabulary.
“The videos are great because you get a live teacher, she says it in English, she says it in Spanish,” Heermann said. “You can hear it, you can speak it out loud if you want to and you can see it too.”
Eighth-grader Carsyn Thompson took German online and a hybrid mathematics course last year and is currently enrolled in American history.
“At the beginning it was a lot of repeats plus some new information, but now it’s starting to get more in depth of the colonies, and it’s really cool,” Thompson said.
Thompson said that asides in the history course and shortcuts in math were helpful additions in the online courses. She also said the individualized feedback of the courses and freedom to pause, rewind and fast-forward allow for a more appropriate pacing of the class.
Big Horn Elementary students also use Acellus modules to complement their robotics course, Welch said.
Cowboy State Virtual Academy
Cowboy State Virtual Academy, the online school administered by Sheridan County District 1 is currently in its second year. It has grown to a current enrollment of 86 students up from approximately 30 this time last year, according to CSVA director Laurel Main. There are 45 high school students, 24 middle school students and 17 elementary students. There are four students enrolled on a part-time basis whose parents are supplementing with at-home materials.
Main said in an email that some students come from prior home-schooling, some have families that move due to military service or the parents’ work or education and others simply prefer to work from home.
The school currently has 114 course offerings approved by the Wyoming Department of Education. Since virtual academy students are still required by state law to sit for the Wyoming Test of Proficiency and Progress in-person, Main used the opportunity last year to speak with students and parents face-to-face. Students, parents and teachers can also request a “live session” to meet over video-conference, according to Main.
Currently, 24 SCSD1 teachers offer courses through CSVA, which are prerecorded.
Main said she is pleased with the quality of the courses, training and support from Acellus, which provides the curriculum materials for CSVA.
New this year is a computer coding course for students in grades eight through 12, and Main said the school will continue to expand its course offerings over time.
“Moving forward, we hope to expand the number of students in our program, provide additional information regarding opportunities for post graduation, increase awareness of our program, and continue to provide a strong education option for parents,” Main wrote in an email.
Sheridan County School District 2 uses online education primarily for credit recovery during the summers and not as a normal part of the curriculum, according to Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Assessment Mitch Craft.
However, Sheridan High School students are able to pursue concurrent-enrollment or dual-enrollment status with Sheridan College and earn college credits as high school students, and many of these courses are online or hybrid.
All of the students taking advantage of online opportunities in Sheridan County School District 3 take their online courses on a part-time basis. The district uses Wyoming Virtual Academy for credit recovery and has students enrolled in dual-enrollment and concurrent-enrollment courses with Sheridan College.
This is the first year that the district has offered foreign languages online, and Superintendent Charles Auzqui said he hopes to be able to offer as many as seven or eight foreign languages online next year based on student interest.
Current offerings include World Languages for seventh- and eighth-graders, Spanish I for ninth grade, Spanish II for 10th grade and Independent Spanish for other interested students, according to SCSD3 counselor Loyce Ellingrod.
Whether in the classroom or at home, and whether courses are independent or combined with work in a classroom setting, online learning opportunities across Sheridan County are increasing students’ selection of courses and skills in a digital world.