With the exception of some late materials, students enrolled in the Missouri Virtual Instruction Program have nearly everything they need to start the inaugural school year.
MoVIP teachers have been calling students all week to make an initial contact and start assigning work. The teachers on the elementary level are required to have set hours for student will be able to contact them. The hours must be a mix of day, night and weekend availabilities.
MoVIP, which operates through the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, allows students to take classes through the computer instead of through a brick and mortar building. Missouri is the 25th state to offer curriculum online and teachers on the telephone.
MoVIP currently only offers kindergarten through fifth grade and ninth through 12th grades. Grades 6 through 8 weren't offered this year because the curriculum wasn't ready, said Curt Fuchs, the virtual school program director.
Most of the students enrolled in the program in Southeast Missouri are on the elementary level.
The Thomsen family of Marble Hill, Mo., decided to participate in MoVIP's first run. Joanna Thomsen said her children had been both homeschooled and attended a school, but she found that both had drawbacks.
"When kids start moving along faster, they have to be held back because the teacher can't focus on them," Thomsen said. She has twins in third grade and a daughter in fifth grade, all enrolled in Connections Academy, the MoVIP school.
She said she didn't like knowing that if a child is succeeding in a classroom setting, they may be stuck idle while the teacher helps a struggling student and likewise that a struggling student may be left wanting.
"It's not for me to go to that teacher and say, 'I want you to stop concentrating on these 24 kids and concentrate on my child,'" Thomsen said.
The curriculum comes from the state of Missouri and students can work on it as fast or slow as they need to.
"My kids are already a week ahead of schedule," Thomsen said.
The children also attend Woodland Elementary School for arts, music and PE classes, giving them time to socialize with groups of other students.
"I like the benefit of giving them both," Thomsen said.
"I really liked the concept of the virtual teaching," said Gordonville, Mo., native Jennifer Pottorf, who teaches in the MoVIP elementary division.
She has been making calls all week to new students.
Some have not received their textbooks, but Pottorf said the math text and workbook is scanned into the computer so the students haven't been idle.
She is required to talk to the students at least once a week and the parents at least once a month. The parent serves as an everyday help and Pottorf is available for problems, questions or general school-related issues.
"We're here to give support and do the grading and other teacherlike tasks," she said. She said she worries about not being able to read body expressions on her students to know if they understand a subject.
"But I believe we'll be able to find ways and listen closely to how they are talking," she said. There is also a Web cam available if the student wants to see the teacher or vice versa.
Fuchs said the software allows teachers to pull up a paper and grade it while the student watches from his or her terminal. They run all the papers through plagiarism software and ask the student questions that should hint at whether it truly is the student doing the work.
"Obviously if you can't answer those questions very well, it might be an integrity issue," he said.
Another issue schools are dealing with is sorting out the level of involvement a virtual student can have with the school, Thomsen said.
In order for a student to take part in extra curricular activities like sports or band, he or she must spend a certain amount of hours attending class in a state school.
"It is a state school," Thomsen said. "It's just outside the brick and mortar."
Cape Girardeau County initially had 42 students sign up to take the classes. Only 28 have "shown up" for class, Fuchs said. He originally expected 25 to 30 percent would back out.
MoVIP had reopened enrollment for state-funded seats because of the withdrawals.
Bollinger County had 10 of its original 13 students participate. Perry County has two students, both on the elementary level.
Scott County has one on the elementary level and 12 applications for high school, but five of those have not made contact, Fuchs said, so he was not sure if they were enrolled.
Fuchs said the ability to offer students in rural areas classes their schools may not offer is one of the main draws to MoVIP.
"We're leveling the playing field," he said. Advanced placement classes and other special courses can be taken as a supplement to the local school curriculum.
"This is taking the schools of today and connecting them to the cyberschool of tomorrow," Thomsen said.
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