Science Hill rolling out three online classes over next two years

The life of college-bound high school students can be busy.

Tests. Applications. Volunteering hours, extracurriculars and more, all taking up limited time.

But by rolling out three online classes — personal finance, AP U.S. government and AP language — over the course of the next two calendar years, Science Hill High School administrators hope to make busy students’ lives easier.Stay informed. Sign up for daily email newsletters

“I can’t overestimate the amount of help this will have for their college preparedness and readiness,” said David Timbs, Johnson City Schools’ supervisor of instructional technology.

Timbs went back and forth with the Johnson City Board of Education at a recent monthly meeting about the details of this program. He did so after two Science Hill teachers, Kiki Garman Diamond and Jessica Schiwitz, made a presentation to the board about the online classes.

Science Hill’s Tim Vanthournout will teach the first of the classes to be unrolled this spring, a half-credit personal finance class required by the state. In the fall of 2017, Schiwitz’s AP U.S. government class will be made available, and the following spring, Garman Diamond’s AP language class will open up.

These classes will first be offered to students with schedule conflicts and those who specifically need AP classes.

The cap for each class will be approximately 30 pupils, and will cost $75 per student. The school has money available to help students who need financial support.

Science Hill Principal Melanie Riden-Bacon said the school put away money for students to take the online classes offered by the Niswonger Foundation, but those monies would now be applied to the in-house offerings.

Each of the teachers will make $1,000 for teaching a class, as well as an additional $75 per student who completes the course.

The Niswonger Foundation’s online classes began in 2010, developing out of the Investing in Innovation grant from the U.S. Department of Education. They currently offer a catalog of 49 online classes that span all curricular areas.

That grant will soon come to an end, leading Science Hill to develop its own set of courses, while still recommending students take Niswonger Foundation online courses as they’re needed.

Nancy Dishner, executive director of the Niswonger Foundation, said though the grant’s funds have gone away, they’ve set up a plan to make sure the education is still offered at the same level. These courses support 31 high schools and some middle school students, too.

Dishner explained how the organization’s Consortium Schools sustainability plan will help extend the online courses into the future.

“While school systems do pay a minimum per-seat fee for students to utilize these courses, because we work in partnership with all these school systems, it is a highly cost-effective program,” she said. “This cost is exactly what is required to maintain the online system and pay the teachers for instruction.”

Much of what the Niswonger Foundation does has served as a template for Science Hill’s plans for its online classes.

As a platform for these module-based online classes, Science Hill will proceed with one of the industry standard learning management software options, Canvas.

Timbs said it’s one of three that are popular vehicles used by higher education for online classes.

Canvas is used by Milligan College and soon it will be used by the entire University of Tennessee system.

Another benefit of Science Hill developing its own online classes, Timbs said, is that the teachers who create the classes will be right there to answer all questions.

Because of Science Hill’s midday flex time hours, students can take online classes and have face-to-face sessions with their online teachers in the same building. That’s not something you can get from an out-of-system online course provider, Timbs said.

Jonathan Kinnick, a member of the school board, said he was also excited to see Science Hill and Johnson City Schools expanding online class offerings.

“The biggest part of this is what it does to help the students,” he said. “But it does take the right kind of student. They have to be self-disciplined or it’s not going to get done.”

Kinnick said because this is aimed at students who need AP classes — and thus are already looking at higher education — they should’t have an issue adjusting to college-level online learning.

Riden-Bacon said the same thing, that though some students started but did not complete their online courses, they will seek to narrow down the participants of these classes to the students who are self-disciplined enough not only to finish, but thrive.

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