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AJC: Online learning goes global at Norcross school
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AJC: Online learning goes global at Norcross school

By H.M. Cauley, For the AJC
Originally published here

As a senior at the Greater Atlanta Christian School, Johnny Meshramkar has a packed schedule before he graduates in the spring. But despite a full load of classes, the 18-year-old senior felt he was missing out on at least one academic opportunity.

“I really wanted to take algebra-based physics,” he said. “But my other classes couldn’t be moved. There was just no open period to fit it in.”

But the Norcross school had a solution: Take the course online through its Ethos School.

“I was a little bit apprehensive about it being online because it is physics,” Meshramkar said. “But I found the software is really accessible, and there’s an array of teaching videos, an online textbook and homework online. Once a week, we have a FaceTime call with our teacher to discuss questions and delve into the material. I’ve really enjoyed it.”

GAC devised the Ethos School to address more than just the problem of student schedules. It also makes it feasible to offer advanced courses to small groups: Meshramkar’s online physics class, for example, has only three students. At the same time, the program provides options for world-wide students with similar issues of scheduling or accessibility to take classes through GAC.

The idea was sparked about five years ago when parents at the 1,670-student school began asking for greater scheduling flexibility, said Joshua Thomason, the Ethos director who also serves as the school’s vice president of finance and operations.

“We explored outline platforms to find ones that were engaging and rigorous, but we didn’t see any with the level of engagement and rigor we were comfortable with,” he said. “We thought if we were having that issue, we couldn’t be the only ones. So we asked heads of schools across the country, and though we learned it was a genuine concern, not many schools had the financial ability to offer an online platform.”

After considerable planning, the Ethos School went live last year, and since then it’s expanded from five partner schools with 26 students in 10 courses to 22 partners across the U.S. and in Rwanda. Students are enrolled in more than 50 courses they could not otherwise offer, including creative writing, Latin and AP European history, calculus and art history.

Paul Cable chairs GAC’s Bible department and leads the Ethos Latin and Greek courses.

“About 80% of my Ethos students are not located in the Atlanta area; they’re in three different time zones,” said Cable. “We have a live video chat each week so students see me, and the whole class is chatting. I’ve gotten to know kids I’ve never met very well. It’s not just me talking and listening.”

Thomason noted that the online students are performing at the same level as those in physical classrooms, with an 86.5% pass rate on AP exams. Now the goal is to offer GAC’s entire high school catalog online.

“If done well, online education allows students to do just as well,” he said. “And it prepares them for the future.”

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