Virtual Learning Reality

By Sarah Gubitz, NHCS Online Learning Supervisor

Online learning is one of the most recent trends in both public and private education. Deciding if virtual learning is the best fit for your student can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be.  New Hanover County Schools has utilized online learning for over 10 years, and the growth of this learning platform is phenomenal.  Here are some quick statistics about virtual learning in our district:

  • The number of online enrollments has grown from 640 in 2011 to 3,500 in 2017.
  • The pass rate for students taking courses for first time credit is 93%.
  • Over 150 courses are offered including honors, Advanced Placement (AP), multiple world languages, and a variety of electives that may not be offered in a traditional face-to-face format.
  • NHCS middle school students earned high school credits for 658 online courses in 2017.

In addition to offering a variety of courses, online learning allows the district to offer more personalized learning opportunities to our students.  We now offer multiple, innovative opportunities that allow for options other than the traditional school day.   High schools now offer flexible scheduling with early morning courses or online learning that can be done off-site, if the student demonstrates success and responsibility.  Students, with principal approval, can opt for a half day or full day of online learning to meet their needs and work toward earning their diplomas.  This is especially important to students that are highly involved in activities outside of school that may require travel or more flexibility in their schedules.  NHCS recently graduated its first student that never stepped foot onto a school campus for traditional instruction, taking the majority of her courses as online courses throughout her high school experience.

Because of the unique needs of students in our district, NHCS began its e-Academy in 2016-2017 as a way to partner with homeschool families and students.  The school allows for students to access courses that they would otherwise have to pay for themselves.  One 2017 e-Academy graduate accessed Advanced Placement (AP) courses that she desired to take, which enable her to have a flexible schedule so she could continue her volunteer work at a local hospital.  She plans to attend UNC-Chapel Hill as an Honors student in the fall.  Learn more about this student, Kari, here.

Dual enrollment is also an option for homeschool families.  Students can enroll for two or more courses at the high school each semester and take electives that may be difficult to find elsewhere.  Dual enrollment student, Sariah, did just that so she could access ROTC during her senior year; she plans to join the military.  Sariah’s schedule included ROTC, an online course, and her homeschool courses.  The flexibility of her schedule allowed her to continue pursuing her modeling interests and making her related appointments during the traditional school day. Sariah’s story is linked here.

NHCS is expanding dual enrollment options to include middle school opportunities for homeschool families for the fall of 2017.  Homeschool families can partner with NHCS to access a minimum of two courses a semester (online or traditional) at no cost.   Dual enrollment students will also be able to take End-of-Grade tests that allow for homeschool families to benchmark and gauge academic progress as an added benefit.

Personalizing your secondary school experience through online education doesn’t stop here.   We have students that have gone, or are planning to go abroad, for enrichment or family reasons for a semester or a year. NHCS Online Learning has been able to continue to provide a rigorous and personalized class schedule through our online opportunities for these students.  These students benefit by being able to keep the pace with their peers and not lose a year or semester of school progress.

While there is no replacement for the classroom teacher and the high-quality education that is provided in NHCS classrooms, there is an innovative and alternative approach that can be explored depending on the individual needs of our students.  It is also likely that today’s students will take one or more online classes at the post high school level as well. According to the 2015 Survey of Online Learning conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group, 28% of students take at least one online class while in college.

As the needs of our students continue to grow and expand, NHCS will continue to evolve its virtual program.  To learn more about online learning, dual enrollment, or the e-Academy, please contact NHCS Online Learning Supervisor Sarah Gubitz at

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