Free online instruction for hospitalized kids

Long-term patients at three major children’s hospitals will have free access to online courses this year through the Virtual High School (VHS), a national nonprofit provider of virtual instruction.

VHS is giving as many as 50 course seats, as well as training, to each of the three hospitals as part of a pilot project worth an estimated $30,000. The organization’s goal is to expand the project to other hospitals nationwide beginning next year, so students who are injured or sick don’t fall behind in their education.

Receiving these first donations will be Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, St. Mary’s Hospital for Children in Bayside, N.Y., and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a national program based in Memphis, Tenn.

Each of these hospitals already has educational facilities to provide instruction to children requiring long-term care, but "this is a way to extend [these programs’] reach beyond face-to-face instruction," said Liz Pape, CEO of the Virtual High School.

The idea for the donation came when Hackensack High School, a VHS customer, donated seats in its online courses to Hackensack University Medical Center. "When we saw that, we thought, ‘Why can’t we do more of that?’" Pape said. "Everybody has an image of someone who’s gone through a long-term illness. … We recognized the need for these kids to have a continuity of educational services."

David S. Gordon, coordinator of educational services for Hackensack University Medical Center’s Tomorrows Children’s Institute, explained the significance of VHS’s donation in an eMail message to eSchool News.

"At our center, all school-aged children are offered in-hospital tutoring by a state-certified teacher, and arrangements are made for home instructions when the child is well enough to be out of the hospital but not well enough to attend school on a regular basis," Gordon wrote. "However, finding high-quality, upper-level math and science tutors for young adults on home instruction is often difficult, and many students find in-home instruction an isolating experience. This opportunity with Virtual High School provides us with a potentially helpful solution to these problems."

The donation was announced at the Advancing Online Learning Conference in Danvers, Mass., Sept. 28. Hosted by VHS, the conference brought together national visionaries, educators from VHS member schools, and school leaders who are considering online learning to discuss what works in virtual instruction.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of VHS.

Keynote speaker Susan Patrick, former director of educational technology for the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and now head of the North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL), highlighted the phenomenal growth in virtual schooling over the past few years.


Patrick cited figures from ED’s National Center for Education Statistics that indicate at least 36 percent of K-12 school systems now have some kind of online instructional program–and twice this number (72 percent) have expressed plans to add or expand such a program.

Online learning programs are meeting the needs of students who are not being served by traditional instruction, Patrick said–including students whose schools do not offer the courses they’d like to take.

For example, about 40 percent of the nation’s high schools still do not offer any Advanced Placement (AP) courses, she noted. But through online learning, "we are creating new opportunities for these kids."

Patrick challenged educators at the conference to "fundamentally rethink" educational approaches to meet the needs of today’s generation of students. She concluded by telling the story of how, in the 1950s, the federal government invested millions of dollars in designing a faster steamship to transport goods overseas. Ten years later, the jet airplane had made this new steamship obsolete.

Asked Patrick: "Are we trying to redesign the steamship in education–or are we trying to design the jet planes or rockets of tomorrow?"


Virtual High School

Hackensack University Medical Center

St. Mary’s Hospital for Children

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

North American Council for Online Learning


Dennis Pierce

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