Looking to expand the options available to an elite class of learners, educators at Stanford University have announced plans to open the first online high school specifically for gifted and talented students.

Run by the university’s Education Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY), the Online High School (OHS) at Stanford University, or EPGY-OHS, will operate as a fully accredited, three-year, diploma-granting institution. The goal, according to school administrators, is to provide an environment where gifted students can continue to excel academically in preparation for a successful stint at a top-flight university.

Though Stanford has provided online learning opportunities to students for more than 15 years, EPGY deputy director Raymond Ravaglia said this project marks the first time the university has offered courses with high-school credit specifically for gifted learners–the type of students who, he said, “are likely to end up at Stanford as undergraduates.” The school will be open to students in grades 10-12 and will welcome its inaugural class this fall.

The courses, all of which will be taught by certified teachers, professors, and other members of the Stanford faculty, will be delivered through a combination of real-time virtual classroom instruction, video conferencing, eMail communication, and written assignment. Courses will cover advanced concepts in mathematics, science, engineering, social studies, and English, among other subjects.

Officials say the program is intended especially for students in rural areas or overseas, as well as those who are home-schooled or whose local schools don’t feature courses sophisticated enough to meet their academic abilities and interests.

Initial funding for the program is being provided through a $3.3 million grant from the Malone Family Foundation in Colorado. The foundation has provided scholarships to Stanford’s EPGY program since 2002. While sweeping education reforms such as the federal No Child Left Behind Act have placed an emphasis on boosting the test scores and performance levels of struggling students, program directors say little has been done to meet the evolving needs of the academically gifted–many of whom have reportedly far exceeded the mental challenges awaiting them at their neighborhood high schools.

As its name implies, EPGY-OHS isn’t for everyone. Students who wish to attend will have to apply–and should be ready to prove their academic prowess. Aside from carefully reviewing standardized test scores and other metrics, including marks on PSAT and SAT tests, admissions officials also will look at personal student portfolios and might even request a face-to-face interview before granting admittance, Ravaglia said.

Unfortunately for parents, the admissions process isn’t the only part of Stanford’s Online High School that bears some similarity to the college experience; at $12,000 a year for a full, six-credit course load, the price of tuition is likely to have some parents tapping into college savings accounts somewhat earlier than expected.

Realizing that some students might only want to take one or two online courses to supplement the work they’re already doing in school, the OHS program also provides a means for students to put the credit they earn at their local high school toward their EPGY-OHS diploma. Ravaglia says the cost of a single course will run parents somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,000. By supporting dual enrollment, he said, Stanford hopes local high schools will come to view OHS as a “resource” for their students, and not as a competing institution that is looking to siphon students away from local school systems.

Aside from providing gifted students with access to more challenging curricula, Ravaglia hopes the school’s name and reputation will ensure that hard-working students receive college credit for the advanced work they do in high school.

Though the Advanced Placement (AP) courses offered at high schools nationwide are intended to provide gifted students with an opportunity to earn college-level credit, Ravaglia said, the reality is that university admissions officers still view these courses as second-rate to their own offerings.

“There is some disconnect between how the College Board represents these courses to students and how colleges actually view these courses,” he explained. That might not be the case, however, if a high school student were to produce a diploma endorsed by the likes of Stanford, he said.

In addition to college-level courses, EPGY-OHS students also will be able to participate in other activities that might–or might not–be found at their local high school. These will include debate competitions, speech classes, guidance counseling services, and even a robotics competition, where students can test their engineering skills against those of their classmates, said Ravglia, who added, “We will be a full-blown school.”

As an additional benefit, students enrolled in the program will be able to travel to the Stanford campus for up to eight weeks during the summer, giving them a chance to meet their instructors face to face and get to know their classmates while working together in university labs and classrooms.

“We want to keep these kids operating at full capacity until they are old enough to enter a university,” said EPGY Director and Faculty Advisor Patrick Suppes. “We really like to think of ourselves as grooming students for any of the best academic programs in the world.”

EPGY-OHS will begin accepting student applications later this spring. More information about the application process and featured courses reportedly will be available April 25 on the organization’s web site.


Education Program for Gifted Youth at Stanford University