Middle schoolers get a head start on high school credits
SEBRING - Brooke Turner may be a sixth-grader but she’s already got an “A” for her first high school course. When mother Gabrielle Birnie enrolled her daughter in the Personal Fitness class at the online Florida Virtual School, she wanted to help her get some of her high school graduation requirements out of the way so she has time for dual enrollment classes later on. During the summer, the plan is to have Brooke take two high school-level courses, and as the word gets around, her friends have joined the bandwagon. “We have four to five dedicated students and three to four who are interested,” Birnie said.Brooke is one of a growing group of middle school students pursuing high school courses through the virtual school, which is free to public, private or homeschool students in kindergarten through grade 12 who are Florida residents. Enrolling in an online course gives students a chance “to work where they want at their own pace,” said the virtual school’s counselor Amy LaGrasta. It also allows them access to courses their school district does not offer. But these online courses are not for everyone, warn school officials. Since they are self-directed classes, they work best for students who are self-motivated. It may also require parents to be involved although the virtual school has its own teachers, and one-on-one instruction is available through the phone, email, instant messaging and even Skype. “It’s very individualized,” said the virtual school’s Communications Specialist Tania Clow, and based on what a student can accomplish. While students have access to both middle and high school courses, middle schoolers who want to take high school courses have to first consult with their guidance counselors about relevant school district policies. The guidance counselor meets with the students and their parents to see if a course is academically appropriate for the student and has to sign off on it. While high school math, science and language course grades and/or credits taken by middle schoolers have to be transferred if the students gets a passing grade, it gets a “little tricky” when it comes to electives, said Clow. That depends on the school district’s student progression plan, and that’s where the guidance counselors come in. Another class Birnie wants her daughter to do online is Life Management, a course that instructs kids on what impacts their life every day – from nutrition to stress. “She needs to know that stuff,” Birnie reasoned about the life-skills class. “It’s also a requirement to graduate in Florida.” Students who enroll have 14 days to withdraw from a class with no grade penalty. LaGrasta said parents and students should use that time to check out the course. Students in grades six to eight who take any high school-level course for high school credit and earn a grade of C, D, or F may also replace the grade with a grade of C or higher “earned subsequently in the same or comparable course(s) in accordance with the district school board’s forgiveness policy,” states the Florida Department of Education. While LaGrasta said that math and science courses are popular with middle schoolers doing high school courses online, Birnie wants Brooke to take her core courses in a brick-and-mortar class. What Florida Virtual courses Brooke ends up taking depends on their difficulty level, Birnie said, but she encouraged parents whose children can handle the workload to check it out. “Some parents complain about the school system and there are options out there,” she said.