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OKLAHOMA City company expanding virtual classrooms


OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Kids who cut class can catch up on their algebra and chemistry by logging onto virtual courses on the Internet.

Several school districts throughout Oklahoma and other states are using an Oklahoma City company's program that allows sixth-through 12th-graders to tune into English, science, math and foreign language classes on the World Wide Web. Two Oklahoma City schools are beginning the program this week.

Teachers employed by Advanced Academics Inc. are available through chat rooms, e-mail and telephones during regular business hours. But students can complete worksheets, quizzes and tests all hours of the day and night.

``They can take their classes at two or three in the morning if they want, as long as they have access to a computer,'' said Todd Stogner, spokesman for Oklahoma City schools.

Advanced Academics, which charges about $300 per course, sells its program to schools in California, Minnesota, Kansas and Oklahoma. A group of Oklahoma businessmen started the company 18 months ago.

The system is designed to help students who otherwise would drop out of school because of pregnancy or because they had to work. Some smaller schools use the program because it's less expensive than hiring a full-time teacher for a few students.

Ten to 15 students at Perry High School began using the Internet teaching tool this fall for math, science and social studies courses, said Superintendent Larry Fry.

``We are addressing the needs of those students that may not be able to function in a traditional school setting,'' he said Wednesday.

``We feel like it might be a wave of the future. We wanted to be a part of the future instead of just reacting to it.''

The students take the classes through computers in their homes or the public library. They come to campus only for standardized tests in the spring.

So far, Fry said, the system is working.

``I can assure you that if there were a lot of problems, they would be on my desk,'' he said.

The program isn't getting rave reviews everywhere, however.

Salina High School students taking Spanish II through Advanced Academics are having some trouble.

``The kids are really struggling and not getting a lot accomplished,'' Principal Paul Hocutt said. ``It seems that for our kids, it's above their heads.''

Salina signed up for the program because the district's part-time Spanish teacher left just before school started. Students who had taken beginning Spanish last year wanted to continue.

Hocutt said he isn't ready to give up yet.

``With a little bit more work, we could make it be successful,'' he said. ``It's just not like having a teacher there.''

In Okeene, one high school student is taking a class through Advanced Academics because she couldn't fit it into her senior schedule.

Okeene High School Principal Noni Knopp said it's working OK for the girl, but that the program would not work for many students.

``It's not for everyone,'' she said. ``It's so hard to motivate yourself to go in and sit at a computer screen. There is some interaction, but it's not like being in a classroom.''

Ben Harris, general manager of Advanced Academics, said the program has helped many students who would have become dropouts.

``We've seen it happen,'' he said. ``Part of what you can do is really offer opportunities to kids who really haven't had a lot of opportunity.''

In Oklahoma City, Douglass High School and Jackson Middle School will offer 54 online courses as a pilot project. The company hopes to expand the program to other metro schools and allow high school dropouts in the area to receive their diplomas online.
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