Free online classes may be coming to rural Missouri schools

Students at schools in rural parts of Southeast Missouri could soon have access to free online classes through a new program recently approved by state lawmakers.

Senate Bill 603, better known as the 'Missouri Course Access and Virtual School Program', would allow students in kindergarten through 12th grade to enroll in online courses of their choosing each year that will be paid for by the school district or charter school.

Nicole Hart, a sophomore at Charleston High School, is glad the learning opportunity would be accessible to any student.

"A lot of the kids around here don't have the opportunity to take online classes because they cost money," she said. "It will just open up a door for students like me."

Wednesday was the last day of class this school year for Charleston High, but Hart is already hoping to use can use the online learning program next year to achieve her goal of studying forensic science.

"It can help me take my education to the next level, like if I finish Chemistry and I want to expand my knowledge," she said.

The Charleston School District recently purchased chromebooks and rolling charge stations for most of their high school and middle school classes.

Junior Zach Leffler says the technology and software programs they are already using at the school help him to learn the material faster.

"For example in our Math class, our teacher Mrs. Ford, she records herself teaching," Leffler said. "So each student has that one on one and can pause the video, and just rewatch it until they get the concept. You're not having to stop the class so you're working at your own pace."

Special education teacher Amy Brown does professional development at Charleston schools.

Brown says they will likely take a hybrid approach to implementing the virtual school so they still use elements of a traditional classroom setting and an online one.

"I don't see a computer being able to take the place of any teacher regardless of the subject," Brown said. "Technology allows one teacher to teach a topic in a variety of ways. They're still doing the same thing, but this student learns it better doing it electronically and this student does it better with a worksheet sitting down with a teacher."

Superintendent Tammy Lupardus says the key for her district is how to pay for the virtual learning program, and she hopes funding that was set aside for MOVIP will be able to offset some of the costs.

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"It is going to be difficult for our district," Lupardus said. "But if there are things that are going to make things better for our students and we are going to personalize and individualize their learning, then perhaps we'll need to look at cutting costs elsewhere."

If the virtual learning program bill is signed into law by the governor it would become effective on July 1st, 2019.

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