Logging on to Learn

he UM Online High School is a partnership between the Division of Continuing and International Edu-cation and the Sagemont Vitual School. Launched by the Weston, Florida-based Sagemont School in 2001, the Sagemont Virtual School has since become the nation’s first fully accredited private online high school. By the time UM signed on, more than 200 students were enrolled in the program, which also had garnered the interest of IMG and other sports academies worldwide, as well as institutions that prepare young thespians for stage and screen. The online school also appeals to international students who want to tap into the U.S. educational system from afar and to students with special physical needs.

“I don’t know of another university in the United States that has an online high school, let alone one with the backing that we are providing,” says Rafael Robles, director of corporate and strategic marketing in the Division of Continuing and International Education. Online education, Robles says, was a phenomenon that occurred within a span of a couple of years, but “there wasn’t a lot of pedagogy behind it.” Networking with faculty in the School of Education is helping the UM Online High School to expand its course content and explore how to optimize online study.

“It’s a terrific opportunity for the University to reach out and work with a very talented, nontraditional population of learners,” says Eugene Provenzo, professor in the School of Education’s Department of Teaching and Learning. “They are the future movers and shakers of sports and entertainment.”Though not an advocate of online education for everyone, Provenzo acknowledges that it may be the best option for this special population, and it’s “a test bed for technology that has potential to help innovate the University’s own curriculum.” Provenzo already supplements his physical classroom with online assignments, which he is modifying for the high school program.

Some online students attend full-time. Scoville Jenkins, a high school junior from Atlanta who this year rocketed to a No. 8 world ranking on the International Tennis Federation junior tour, began attending the UM Online High School last year when his training intensified. He is on the court from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., then in the gym from

3:30 to 4:30 p.m. every day. He logs on for class between 5 and 8 p.m. “I chose the UM Online High School because it is the closest thing to a real school,” says Jenkins, who advanced to the semifinals in boy’s singles at Wimbledon this year. “You have a teacher in every class and they help you a lot.”

Individualized attention from teachers is key, says Howard Liebman, UM Online High School principal and former assistant principal at the Sagemont Upper School. Liebman describes the process: A student signs up for a class at any time; within 24 hours the teacher phones the student for an introduction; the student completes course modules and submits assignments; and if more instruction is necessary, teacher and student take a trip to the “white board,” a page on the Internet that functions just like a classroom blackboard. Students and teachers can watch each other solve math problems or diagram sentences in real time. “It’s synchronous communication,” Liebman explains. “You might not even get that attention in a physical classroom.”

Other students, such as Robyn Parris, follow the “brick-and-click” model, where they attend a physical classroom part of the time while also taking a few classes online. A native of Barbados, Parris moved to South Florida four years ago

to prepare to attend an American college. Valedictorian at the Sagemont Upper School/ UM Online High School, now she is a freshman business administration major at the University of Miami.

Finding Fulfillment

hoose what you like, and you’ll make money at it.” This was the advice Monica Faraldo, then an associate trainer at Automatic Data Processing, Inc., gave daughter Marisa when she graduated high school. At the same time, the senior Faraldo was contemplating entering an M.B.A. program. Her daughter fired the advice right back, and Faraldo listened.

“There’s something about the purity and the neatness of bones that you can just tell the whole history of someone,” Faraldo says of her lifelong interest. “It’s like looking from the inside out.”

Applying transfer credits she earned 25 years ago at the University of Tennessee, Faraldo completed the BGS program in three years, choosing physical anthropology as her concentration. She earned a master’s degree a year later, getting a boost from six credits she earned through an eight-week fellowship at a field school in South Africa. There she uncovered and studied three-million-year-old bone fragments of ancestors to modern humans, slept in tents in the field, and hand-wrote all of her essays by the light of her lantern.

Now Faraldo teaches physical anthropology and forensics in the College of Arts and Sciences. She introduces her students to field work, taking them to places like the Audubon House in Key West, where they uncovered long-lost artifacts buried in the yard. Born and raised in Key West, she travels there frequently to research skeletal remains found in the Spanish treasure ships Atocha and Santa Margarita. It’s a far cry from her way of life for 16 years in corporate America, and she loves every minute of it.

“When I was a traditional student here 30 years ago,” recalls Nina Baeza, B.G.S.C. ’03, “my agenda was totally different. I just wanted to cram in whatever knowledge it would take to do well on tests, make good grades, get out of college, and get on with my life. Now my agenda is about self-fulfillment.”

Baeza, a professional actress, acting teacher, and voice-over specialist, had completed all but her senior year as a communications and theatre arts major when her husband’s job required relocation. “I considered going to another college, but I just couldn’t do it,” she says. “I continued to bleed orange and green.” Two children, an industrious career, and a husband who was earning his doctorate degree were all roadblocks for her return to school. “It seemed that it would never be my time until the BGS program came into my life.”

BGS students are able to custom design their own cur-riculum with courses from any school or college in the Univer-sity. As of 2003, they earn a Bachelor of Arts degree conferred by the College of Arts and Sciences. In addition to the area of concentration and general education credits in math and the humanities, the BGS program requires 15 credits of colloquia, interdisciplinary courses open only to BGS students. These rotating course offerings—such as The History of Medicine, Ethics and Society, Mind-Body Health, or Intercultural Communication—are often the only place where BGS students can meet and bond with each other as a group.

“Research shows that the previously harsh division between traditional students and nontraditional students is blurring,” says Louise Driscoll-Best, Ed.D. ’03, director of collegiate and professional studies and manager of the BGS program. “Traditional students, ages 18 to 22 and attending full-time, are increasingly acting like nontraditional students by blending part-time work with their studies. This creates a need for universities to custom design programs for students depending on their need, not necessarily their age.”

 
 
Meredith Danton is the editor of Miami magazine. Photos by Kelly LaDuke.
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