by Andrew Bosworth
Did you know that TLS offers enough courses so that every sophomore, junior and senior could take a different elective each year with 30 courses left to spare?
While most students choose to take classes only offered at TLS, others have decided to participate in online courses through an online provider called Virtual High School (VHS). According to VHS Learning, students in grades 10-12 can choose from “over 200 unique online courses that will help you discover future college and career paths,” including 20 Advanced Placement classes.
“When we got a ninth block, Dr. Kay wanted to expand our offerings, and he felt that VHS offered us so many different options,” VHS site coordinator Rabbi Abby Sosland said.
Offering eight elective courses as part of its curriculum, TLS allows students to choose from a wide range of activities to best suit their interests. However, it cannot offer the same options as a larger school. Instead, the administration implemented the VHS platform to satisfy students’ thirst for knowledge.
Since the program has no strict learning schedule, it can be difficult to keep up with the rigor of the classes, which is why there are only a handful of students who choose to take advantage of this opportunity.
“I am taking honors Anatomy and Physiology and next semester I will be taking honors Bioethics,” junior Alex Jaeger said. “I wanted to take Anatomy and Physiology offered at TLS, but since they didn’t want to mix grades and it did not fit into my schedule, Sami [Mazo] told me about VHS.”
Similarly, junior Avi Katzen hoped to take a course offered at TLS but was unable to.
“I took a one-semester course, Introduction to Computer Science Principles because they could not fit computer science into my schedule,” Katzen said. “I think it’s cool that they have another alternative that works around your schedule.”
According to the TLS curriculum guide, many of the VHS courses occupy six to eight hours per week, with honors programs occupying slightly more time. At this time, the commitment is significantly higher than classes at TLS; students who opt to take a VHS course must be self-motivated. While the final grade of the course does not factor into student GPAs, it does appear on their transcript.
VHS offers many types of classes at different levels, and also for different periods of time. TLS students may take semester or year-long courses, depending on the course they choose.
“I am taking ASL, American Sign Language, which is a full- year course,” junior Liat Levine-Salem said. “You can do it according to your own schedule, but you have to make sure that you are managing your time well.”
Due to the pressure of the courses, Sosland helps students with general problems they encounter and helps students stay on top of their work. Sosland also acts as the proctor for some exams taken by VHS students.
“There is a lot of work in some courses,” said Sosland. “You have to prefer virtual work.”
According to Sosland, the COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated the fact that there are students who prefer and excel at learning remotely. They may enjoy taking a course with limited teacher-student interaction.
Different VHS courses have varying contact among students and between students and teachers. In some courses, students are instructed to work virtually with others to create a group project, and in others, students have class discussions on forums and in chat rooms.
“One of the cool parts was talking to people you would never meet,” Katzen said. “There was a discussion board. You would respond to a prompt and then every week comment on another. In the first week, we had to write about ourselves, and it was a cool way to meet other people.”
Science classes are particularly challenging to take without a physical classroom as it is much more challenging to participate in hands-on experiments, but it is not impossible. From the comfort of her home, Jaeger was able to dissect a chicken’s leg that she purchased from the grocery store. While not an ideal option, this allowed Jaeger to become physically immersed in a field of her interest.
“It is a lot of work each week, but if you don’t have an elective [at TLS] you really like, you can pursue something that you are interested in,” Jaeger said. “That being said, I wish I knew how much work it would be.”
Like Jaeger, Katzen was not expecting such high levels of work but found that if spaced out over the week, the workload was bearable.
Even though VHS has its pros and cons, Levine-Salem agreed that it is a good way to expand your academic horizons.
“It is a really cool way to take a class that your school does not offer,” Levine-Salem said.
VHS offers an unusual way to experience High School, better enabling students to participate in courses that are of interest to them, even if taught by a teacher thousands of miles away.