An Alternate Pathway

The journey of switching to an online school during the pandemic

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Maya Kornyeyeva

With online learning, all the resources a student needs are available at their fingertips.

A black screen, and then a whirrrrr. 

A soft humming escapes from the laptop as she props it up on her desk. 

A couple of seconds later, the screen comes to life, illuminating her face as she quickly logs into her account and searches for the link to her first class. 

Unlike all of her friends, Nicole Coleman won’t be signing into Canvas to attend Carlmont classes. This year, she has taken a step into a whole new educational atmosphere: one that will allow her to pursue her passion for veterinary sciences.

“After high school, I want to go into a career with veterinary science, and possibly even open up my own clinic in Oaxaca, Mexico. At my new school, I’m looking forward to doing small-animal studies, large-animal studies, and exotic-animal studies, and also learning about diseases and equine animals as part of the veterinary science elective,” Coleman said. 

For her junior year, Coleman transferred to George Washington University Online High School (GWUOHS), a school that has specialized in online education since its inception in 2011. 

The school provides students with a rigorous career-based curriculum and also partners them with college counselors for one-on-one assistance with the college application process. 

“Throughout the year, we offer our students plenty of resources and support. This includes a team of college counselors who work with each student individually to help them with difficult areas of the college application process, like resume writing or applying for financial aid scholarships,” said Hannah Small, an advisor at GWUOHS.

If Coleman ever struggles with her school work and can’t contact her advisor, she can always turn to her “Learning Coach:” her father, David Coleman.

“As her learning coach, I make sure that she’s on track and she knows what she has to do for the week and which classes she needs to attend. This is definitely a brand new role for me, and it also comes with communicating with her advisor, which has been great so far,” David Coleman said. 

In addition to a personal college advisor and a physical learning coach, GWUOHS includes a mandatory course for high school students called Journey’s Symposium. It covers everything from how to write a college essay to what kind of colleges would accommodate you best.

“The class is focused on helping you through the college application process, as well as walking you through the things you should include in your personal essay. It’s one of the reasons why I transferred to GWUOHS this year, because of its emphasis on college readiness,” Nicole Coleman said. 

While Carlmont also has a four-year class based upon preparing students for college, AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) is not required. According to their mission statement, AVID strives to “create an inquiry-based, student-centric classroom” and is a helpful elective for first-generation college students and those who want to attend a four-year college.

“The curriculum was satisfactory if you are looking for ways to help you in school, and AVID did provide copious resources and group activities that were centered on creating bonds between students. However, there wasn’t equal focus on college prep and career opportunities, which I think would have helped me more,” Angelina Leopardo, a junior at Carlmont, said.

Classes other than Journey’s Symposium at GWUOHS are largely tailored to the student’s interests. They include a selection of 16 advanced placement (AP) courses that can be taken during the semester or individually. 

(Dual enrollment) gives students a great opportunity to enjoy the ‘college experience’ ahead of time and get AP work done early and out of the way.”

— Hannah Small

These courses include two world languages (Spanish and French), alongside a variety of science, math, literature, and history AP classes.

“Since GWUOHS is a college prep school, we also offer dual enrollment with two other universities, one of them being the George Washington University,” Small said. “This gives students a great opportunity to enjoy the ‘college experience’ ahead of time and get AP work done early and out of the way.”

Small noted that the AP classes offered at GWUOHS can also be taken individually by students who don’t formally attend the online school.

“Due to the current situation with COVID-19, there has been a significant increase in applicants for our school this year. Last year we ended with about 200, and now we have close to 600 students enrolled. Many are taking advantage of our online education to complete AP courses while still attending their local high school,” Small said.

In this way, GWUOHS can be a readily available option for Carlmont sophomores, juniors, and seniors looking to take an extra advanced class, with the added possibility of transferring college credits.

Incidentally, Coleman’s choice to switch schools for her junior year was not just a spur of the moment. She put a lot of thought into what switching schools would mean for her as a student and planned to apply to GWUOHS and pay the tuition fees on time.

“We really liked the learning program at the school because it is a combination of Nicole attending online classes and working on her own,” Laurie Coleman, Coleman’s mother, said. “There is a lot of preparation involved because getting used to the learning management system is difficult, and we had to download Microsoft Word and adapt to it. Making sure that we get the tuition and her application in on time required a bit of planning as well.”

In paying for two semesters of online high school, Coleman’s book expenses were also covered. At the beginning of September, she received a box full of novels for her American Literature class, textbooks for her math, history, and science courses, and an English-Spanish dictionary for her AP Spanish curriculum.

Many of the novels she received are similar to the books Carlmont juniors would be reading in their classes: for example, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott. Fitzgerald is read in both school’s curriculums.

“I find American Literature interesting because it focuses on more modern works than the typical English 3 class. It also focuses on specifically American pieces of literature throughout time. For example, I am looking forward to reading Common Sense by Thomas Paine in my first semester,” Nicole Coleman said. 

Keeping social relations is perhaps even harder than handling online academics for many high school students. However, it is not a problem for Coleman, as she has already made a new friend and joined a discord server with other GWUOHS students.

“The discord functions mainly as an outlet for online communication. It is student-run, and you can log on to the different channels to chat and meet new people,” Coleman said.

Students can also contact other students by getting their number from the advisory and texting them if they have something in common. 

Pullquote Photo

I put down that I like singing and musical theater, and someone has texted me saying they like the same things too.”

— Nicole Coleman

Another way to meet people is to join a club. Like many high schools, GWUOHS holds a club rush, where students can sign up to join organizations involving their interests and passions.

One of the clubs is specifically oriented towards new students. It is a program that partners GWUOHS graduates with first-year attendees in order to help them feel more comfortable in the new learning environment.

“This partnership program allows students to build a relationship and help mentor each other. Since it is such a transition from a brick-and-mortar institution to an online one, this club makes the switch a little easier,” Small said. 

In this digital era, switching to an online school is not as terrifying as it seems. With students already learning online due to COVID-19, high schoolers are presented with various options for independent study. 

Whether to fully switch to a new online school or to take an individual AP course, many students could benefit from the resources available at GWUOHS, as well as the alternative learning environment offered.

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