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TIFFIN - In her Advanced Placement biology class, Lauren Baker is learning about organisms, the environment, and time management.
The junior at Tiffin Columbian High School is taking the course online through Virtual High School, a Massachusetts-based consortium that lets districts across the country supplement their curriculums with online classes.
Assignments for Lauren and her classmates - who attend schools across the country and even overseas - are posted online every Wednesday. The students have until midnight the following Tuesday to complete the work, which typically includes reading two textbook chapters, taking two quizzes, participating in an online discussion, and writing an essay or doing a lab exercise.
"It's very difficult just managing your time," Lauren said one morning last week as she checked the assignments on a computer in the school library. "It was very hard for me in the beginning. You figure you have nothing to do until Monday or Tuesday, and then you have all this work to do at once."
The class, which began last fall, will help her prepare for college, Lauren said.
"This is just the hardest class I've taken," she said "I do have a teacher, but it's basically like teaching yourself. ... It's definitely been a good experience having to be responsible, not having a teacher tell you you need to work on specific things."
Thousands of students in Ohio are having the same experience, either through Virtual High School classes or through online charter schools that let them take some or all of their courses by computer.
Such programs include the Ohio Virtual Academy, sponsored by the University of Toledo, with 1,700 students statewide, and the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, sponsored by the Lucas County Educational Service Center, which has 4,500 students in Ohio.
J.C. Benton, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education, said the state also allows school districts to sponsor digital academies on their own.
The Perrysburg Exempted Village School District is in its second year of offering online classes through such a program.
Shawn Deitemeyer, coordinator of the Perrysburg Digital Academy, said about 25 students, mostly in middle and high school, are taking classes from home through the program. There is no additional charge to students for those courses.
In addition, the digital academy has about 70 kindergarten students who use computers as part of an all-day curriculum at a cost of $325 per month per child. Perrysburg's other kindergarten classes are half-day sessions.
The program gives students and their families extra academic choices and flexibility and helps the district compete with other schools, Mr. Deitemeyer said.
"It gives us the ability to serve our kids without the risk of losing them to a charter school," he said. "These past two years have certainly taught us as a school district how we can address individual student needs in a very efficient manner."
Gail Shreiner, the site coordinator for Virtual High School in the Tiffin City Schools, said the program lets the Seneca County district offer an additional two dozen courses for relatively little money. The district pays $6,000 a year to belong to the program and provides a faculty member who teaches a creative writing class.
Up to 25 middle school or high school students from Tiffin can enroll in the online classes each semester, taking them in addition to their regular courses. Offerings range from bread-and-butter classes in science, math, and history to more contemporary offerings such as "Gods of CNN: The Power of Modern Media."
Christina Daly, a sophomore at Tiffin Columbian, said she took the online course "Number Theory: Patterns, Puzzles, and Cryptography" last semester to test herself and move beyond standard math classes.
"I've always liked numbers and playing around with them, and the only math classes offered at Columbian are really basic," she said.
Christina said she missed being able to talk to a teacher face-to-face but otherwise enjoyed the course.
"I definitely liked being able to work on my own," she said. "I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to try college without going to college."
Contact Steve Murphy at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6078.