San Diego's first virtual high school is now in its first semester, with 16 students taking courses entirely online.
Another 200 are taking part in what called the “dual enrollment” program—taking one virtual class, while still enrolled in a full, traditional course load at their home high school.
Dion calls himself a self-learner and says he’s spending about six hours a day working in his family’s study on his class work.
"I've found chemistry is a bit harder cause it's more of an interactive class," explains Dion
Students enrolled at iHigh can take any class they’d find at a traditional high school-- everything from AP classes to PE. A company called Apex provides the software and course material, as well as instructors from around the country who can videoconference with kids. There are also four San Diego teachers with different specialties who mentor the students.
Dion’s mom, Laura DeBell is raving about the program after just one month.
"He's working harder and he's doing better than I've ever seen him do, probably since preschool," DeBell says, who says her bright son struggled with his grades in the traditional school setting. She likes how the software used by iHigh allows her to check up on her son’s progress in detail, 24-7.
"I was very happy to have this, where I can every day see that his work is being done and give him praise, congratulate him when it's done. And take care of it, give him a nudge hold his feet to the fire when he's not getting it done," DeBell says.
"The flexibility is the big piece that we're seeing right now, so that they can study when it works for them," said iHigh principal Mary Lange.
And Principal Lange says it’s a misconception that iHigh will require fewer teachers, or that the teachers won’t have to work as hard.
“You always need the teacher, always need the teachers," she says, ”and they do as much work if not more, because they do that one on one work with the email, or a phone call of having them come in. Now, it's more one to one than 36 students in a classroom that come to you."
"Not everybody can learn in the traditional mode of being in the classroom six hours and people learn in different ways and just giving students more chooses, I think it's awesome," said iHigh teacher Jason Bailow, who calls this the wave of the future in education.
Others agree. Lange hopes that by next year, 150 students will be enrolled fulltime at iHigh. District Superintendent Terry Grier has predicted that within 10 years, all high school students will take 25 percent of their courses on line.
Lange also says she’s aware some may be concerned about the socialization available to students who take classes virtually, but says research seems to show students get that valuable interaction from other places, such as church and sports.
"You don't get to see your friends as much cause often your busy but you don't have to deal with distractions and you can work at your own pace," Dion says.
The students still see their teachers face-to-face about once a week, and are required to go to the iHigh campus at Mt. Everest Academy or in Old Town for proctored tests or if they’re showing that they’re lagging behind in any subject.
Serra High sophomore Celia Smith is taking an economics class through iHigh, in addition to her five traditional classes, in order to graduate early.
"It's on your own time so nobody's rushing you its really fun," Smith says.
Students must apply, and are required to read at a 9th grade level because the coursework relies so heavily on text. iHigh is hosting open house events throughout the next couple months for anyone interested in applying.