Online Christian school offers curriculum for middle, high school students

Online classes are an accepted part of a college education. Middle school and high school education traditionally operates outside of the virtual world with online facets limited to research and assignments. St. Mark’s Academy is seeking to change the model. The Hilton Head, S.C.-based Christian school begun in April registering students in grades 7-12 for its entirely online curriculum. St. Mark’s is backed by private donations as a ministry of the Baptist General Association of Virginia affiliated Shoutchurch.tv. It is, however, non-denominational in accepting applications from students worldwide. The overarching goal of the school is for students to develop Christian leadership skills in an environment closely monitored by involved families. “We have a very outward thrust in wanting our students to be out in the world developing leadership skills,” explained St. Mark’s headmaster Jamie Osborne. “The wrong type of student is the one who is in front of the computer 24/7. We want our students to go anytime and anyplace to use their leadership skills. We also want them to work at the pace most suitable for them.” The pacing and the timing are two selling points for the school. “Who says that high school needs to start at 7:30 in the morning?” Osborne asked. “The best time for a student to sit down and focus on algebra may be 4:30 in the afternoon. “Also in a brick and mortar setting you are tied to a bell and set amount of time for classes. Here if you are a student that is gifted in math, it may take you 20 minutes to understand the material and then free you up to spend more than what a regular class period would be on say, history, if that is a subject you are struggling with.” The school could be a resource, too, for students serving with families in the mission field. “If a student is spending time serving at a Tanzanian AIDS orphanage then they should have the same opportunity for an education,” Osborne said. It is still early in the enrollment process for St. Mark’s. With an ultimate goal of 2,000 students – an average of 40 per state, Osborne said — by the time school starts in the fall, recruitment of students and teachers alike is well underway. The possible student pool is coming from three primary areas, he said: Students seeking alternative arrangements from traditional high schools with more at-home support, students enrolled in Christian school whose families are having a difficult time meeting tuition, and students seeking a Christian education currently enrolled in public school. St. Mark’s tuition is $795 per semester and discounts are given for multiple students being enrolled from the same family. Families concerned about student interaction and relationships with teachers that are so vital to the traditional educational process will be mitigated by a mentorship program, Osborne added. Mentors will have virtual real-time meetings with students grouped in interest-based cohorts on a regular basis to supplement online instruction from teachers. “Within the cohort students will have face-to-face online contact through a Webcam,” Osborne said. “We are also planning live meetings around the country so students and mentors can meet face-to-face. We regularly want to bring students together.” A youth pastor by trade and a former head of an online charter school, Osborne grasps the challenges St. Mark’s has in an ever-increasing menu of options families have for secondary education. “We know that the families that are looking at us have a lot of possible scenarios they are working with,” he said. “We’re excited about the opportunity and future the school can be a part of.” Link: St. Mark’s Academy: http://www.stmarksacademy.net/

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