NEWTON – Students in the Catawba County Schools system don’t have to go to school anymore.
Well, they still have to attend classes, but what that means has drastically changed recently with the launching of Online Catawba.
The program will begin offering classes Jan. 24 for the spring semester, with classes lasting 13 to 17 weeks depending on if they are advance placement courses. It is opened to students in ninth through 12th grades for any course offered as long as prerequisites have been met. World History will be offered to eighth-grade students only.
Online Catawba provides students the opportunity to earn high school credits at no extra charge through online classes taken anywhere at any time.
This is not a new concept. Currently, students can take additional online classes through services like the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics and CVCC Distance Education, but Catawba County Schools (CCS) has sharpened this vision. It has created a program where classes are taught online by the district’s own teachers.
Now, a class offered only at a specific high school is open to students at any of the other schools in the district. A good example is the honors computer science course taught only at St. Stephens High.
“While they have those other options, now they have Online Catawba classes as well, so they’ll have lots of opportunities,” CCS Online Catawba Director Leslie Black said.
She spent the previous couple of weeks explaining this new program to students at all the system’s high schools.
“A reason we’re interested in doing it this way is because this uses our own teachers,” Black said during a trip to Fred T. Foard High. “We don’t question the material of the other online services. They offer great courses, but this way this provides more for our students, and they actually could receive face-to-face help if they need it.”
With Online Catawba, there is the possibility for class meetings like labs.
“If they’re having a problem, when the teacher is right down the road then that makes it a whole lot easier for us,” Black said.
The teacher could set up an appointment and visit the student at their school, a service that wouldn’t happen with the other online class programs in the state like the North Carolina Virtual Public School.
Foard sophomore Lindsay Shook was excited about being able to take courses through Online Catawba when she first heard about the program.
“I had done world history online in eighth grade, so I know I can take online classes,” Shook said. “It was a good experience, and I enjoy doing stuff online.”
She likes being able to work through a class at her own speed.
“If I’m working quicker on something, I can get it done, and if I’m slower, I can take my time on it,” Shook said.
She’s interested in taking the French I and AP Literature classes in the spring.
Shook admits this may not be the right path for every student, and good time management skills are a key requirement.
“Some people definitely work better talking face-to-face, and they need that more than staring at a screen,” she said.
While this is unique, CCS isn’t the only system creating its own online program. Black said they looked at other districts like Pitt County and Iredell-Statesville, that are doing something similar, to get some ideas.
Catawba County has teachers who are building new courses specifically for its online program. The system has received content from these other districts as well, allowing CCS to add to the classes offered.
“We’re hoping to maybe add an additional five to six more courses in the spring, so the kids will have around 15 to 16 courses as options,” Black said.
It’s a mix of classes as well, with both academic and some Career Technical Education classes offered. The online option allows the district to offer courses not being taught at any of the CCS high schools like psychology. Other classes offered include eCommerce, chemistry and personal finance.
Fred T. Foard High counselor Brooke Ward reminded students at her school to sign up as early as they can for online courses. Only 25 students will be allowed in each class, with some like AP Literature and AP Language coming close to meeting this cap. She reminded them as well to be prepared for the demands of an online course.
“You have to be self-disciplined to sit at a computer and do the work, dedicate the time to it,” Ward said. “It has to be a subject the students are engaged in and interested in taking. They’ll be more willing to do the work then.”
Students have four classes now each semester, and Online Catawba will allow them to add one more for a fifth period or they can replace one of the regular four classes with an online course.
To enroll in Online Catawba classes, students need to have access to Internet service and a computer to complete their courses, according to the program’s website. Catawba County Schools can provide a computer for students that want to take online courses during the school day while on a CCS campus.
Homeschoolers can take a class (or multiple classes) through Online Catawba, if parents pay the $500 per course fee for non-CCS students. They will be considered “visiting” students and can maintain homeschool status.
For more information, visit online.catawba.net or call 828-464-8333.