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Going DIGITAL

Leaving Citrus High School was one of the hardest things Patsy Jenkins ever did. "I devoted 10 years of my life to Citrus High School," said the veteran educator, who is in her 30th year of teaching.

She didn't leave the Citrus County School District, though. That is where she drew the line when she decided to join Florida High School as an online business teacher.

The situation is very similar for Donah Edwards. "It was very hard for me to walk away from Citrus High School," she said.

Both were lured to Florida High School because it is so new and different from any method of teaching they have ever known. It is a state-funded _ though not as part of the school system budget _ and statewide online high school,

"The curriculum and the way you teach kids were what enticed me," said Jenkins, 54, "and the chance to do something different. I really like that it's individualized."

"For me," said Edwards, 32, "the main reason was that it's a new, creative, exciting, cutting-edge type of school environment. From the beginning I thought, "how neat!' "

Although they are now teachers with Florida High School, Jenkins and Edwards are still Citrus School District teachers. They are considered teachers on special assignment. Their classrooms are computers.

Jenkins, in her second year at Florida High School, teaches keyboarding, computers and business skills, and Business Systems and Technology II. Edwards teaches Business Systems and Technology I. She is just starting and Jenkins is her new teacher mentor.

Citrus County uses Florida High School as a resource for students whose needs cannot be completely met in their home high schools.

"We use it for students who are unable to take a specific course," said Bobbie Dilocker, central region coordinator of secondary education, citing examples such as Latin and geometry at the 8th grade level. "Florida High School offers enhancement of course offerings."

It is also a good option for a student who may be homebound for an extended period of time or for one who is traveling.

"I have two students (one this year and one last year) who are professional tennis players and they travel all the time," said Jenkins. "They take high school on their laptops at night."

"I have a little girl who had brain surgery," said Edwards. "She would have just lost out." When she has recovered sufficiently, Edwards said, she can pick up where she left off.

Students interested in taking Florida High School courses must enroll in the school with signatures from their parents and their school's guidance counselor. For homeschooled students, a parent's signature is necessary and Florida High has guidance counselors who can advise homeschoolers and keep them on track for graduation. These children must be registered with Citrus County Schools as homeschooled students.

Students who complete Florida High courses are given high school credit and transcripts are then sent to their home schools so the courses can be counted toward graduation.

Florida High School is not for everyone, says Dilocker. It works best for students who are highly motivated, independent learners, computer literate and committed. "You definitely have to have reading skills," said Edwards.

And students must be able to clearly communicate in writing, added Dilocker. "The classes are very demanding," she said.

"This is school," said Jenkins.

Florida High School's motto is "Any time, any place, any path, any pace." But there are pace guidelines. The accelerated pace is for advanced students who are able to move through a course in less time than a school year. The traditional pace allows a school year for completion of a course. Extended pace, which must be requested, is a calendar year. " "No pace' is not an option," said Dilocker.

Citrus High School has a computer lab in cooperation with Florida High School for gifted students. Students taking Florida High courses may do so during one of their blocks. Teacher Steve Harper facilitates REACH, or Reaching For Excellence in Academic Challenges, in the lab and Edwards is the lab contact.

A typical day for Edwards is from 6:30 a.m when she logs on until about 4:30 p.m., but she can check in on her students at any time. She says she has 108 students, but none, at this time, are in Citrus County.

Jenkins likes to start earlier. "I frequently sign on at 4 o'clock in the morning," she said. She has 133 students; two in Citrus County. Statewide, there are 3,800 students and 53 teachers.

Chances are their students aren't up and about as early as their instructors, but the teachers can review or grade their work and have it ready for them when they do get started.

All of the curriculum is on the Internet, the teachers explained. The curriculum is written by classroom teachers and is constantly edited, Jenkins said.

The students use passwords to look at assignments. "Everything they have to do is right there," Jenkins said. "After it is completed, they submit it to the course room and we pick it up and we grade it. We submit back to them in their portfolios."

Lab work can be handled right in students' homes, because Florida High School sends lab kits to the students. Other labs can be done through computer simulation.

The teachers are in contact with their students through their course work, by e-mail and by telephone. "I probably spend 50 percent of my day on the telephone with students or parents," Jenkins said.

Citrus County School District first started piloting Florida High School in January of 1999 through through the efforts of Dilocker and director of curriculum and instruction Tom Curry. "They've been really supportive and have worked very hard to provide this opportunity to students," said Jenkins.

It is a nice opportunity for Jenkins and Edwards, too, who are excited about doing something so new and individualized. Florida High School seems to taking off and "wherever it goes," Edwards said, "we're going to be a part of that."

For information about Florida High School, call Bobbie Dilocker at 726-1931 or visit its Web site at http://www.fhs.net .

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