A bell rings at Peekskill High School and students make their way to classes as usual. Most will enter a classroom, greet their teachers and friends, settle into their desk, crack a book and begin the day’s lesson. But, in one classroom at PHS, this normal routine has taken an exciting turn straight into the twenty-first century as first-time Distance Learning students prepare to engage in live-streamed lessons taught by certified teachers almost six hours away in West Seneca, NY.
About to begin the second half of its premier year, Peekskill’s Distance Learning Program comes to the high school thanks to a recent partnership with Erie 1 BOCES and the NYS Distance Learning Consortium. Through the program, Peekskill’s students are able to connect to virtual classrooms via a two-way multipoint interactive video link and can then communicate with the courses’ teachers, as well as other Distance Learning students through a large monitor and webcam stationed in a Peekskill classroom. Classwork is submitted via email or fax, and grades are returned from each courses’ teacher to Peekskill administration.
“When we first started the class, the students had some confusion about how the process would work,” said Christen McDonnell, a Peekskill teacher who sits-in on the Distance Learning courses to provide in-person assistance when needed. “I told the kids, ‘you Facetime people all of the time and this is the same idea. It’s a lot like technology you’re already using.’”
As of now, Peekskill is offering three Distance Learning classes to seniors, but hopes to add more classes next year. Current courses topics include the History of Rock and Roll, Holocaust Studies, and a Pop Culture class, all of which will provide students with half or one elective credit once completed.
“Distance Learning is way to expand access for students to learn about topics that they might not otherwise be able to pursue,” said Peekskill’s Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, Dr. Joseph Mosey, who helped pioneer the program in the District.
The three courses offered at Peekskill were selected based off student interest and course schedules, since the lessons are streamed live and the bell times of the Distance Learning classes must sync up with Peekskill’s regular bell schedule.
Besides opening a virtual door which allows students to access new course topics, the program also succeeds in bringing cultural diversity into the classroom. Through the Distance Learning program students from different geographic locations are able to work together on class assignments and projects without having to travel outside of their districts. The program also aides in preparing students for college-like course work and encourages the development of computer skills as well as independent studying methods.
“The Distance Learning program provides them with a learning experience that mirrors contemporary college-styled learning modalities,” said Peekskill High School Principal, Fred Hutchinson.
Students’ recactions to the Distance Learning classes have been positive in the short time the program has been at Peekskill, and many are happy to have more options to be able to earn their elective credits, whether they need them to graduate or not.
“The topic of my class is really interesting,” said Jacobi Clarke, a Peekskill High School senior who is currently enrolled in the Holocaust Studies class. “I’m glad [Peekskill High School] is offering a broader range of classes. I don’t need the credit, but I’m taking the class to occupy my time and because it’s fascinating.”
Moving forward, if the program is successful, next year the District will be looking to upgrade their participation in Distance Learning by offering a class as well. A potential proposal to continue the program will focus on seeking grant funding to help equip the high school with the technology needed to teach these courses. Besides further enhancing the high school’s curriculum, offering a Distance Learning course would also be an additional source of revenue for the District.
“We’re discussing the possibility of teaching a stock market class next year,” said Miriam Skrivanek, a Peekskill High School math teacher and the student liaison for the Distance Learning program. “We’d want to offer something that others aren’t so that more schools will want to sign up with us.”