A Consortium of Schools Striving For Greater Access

The Washington Virtual Classroom is a consortium of 12 school districts, each representing a different educational service district in the State of Washington. Originally 9 districts initiated this project in 1997 with a mission to establish interconnectivity between each district so that both staff development and course delivery can be accomplished via video teleconferencing and web-based learning modules.

The founding school districts (Adna, Concrete, Eatonville, Lake Chelan, North Franklin, Quillayute Valley, Wapato, Wellpinit, and White Salmon) had similar demographics; each had a significant level of poverty in their communities, a mix of ethnic minorities and was small in size (ranging from 225 to over 3,000 students district-wide). Since 1997 Lake Chelan dropped out from the project and Ocosta, Brewster, Quinault Lake and the State School for the Deaf have joined.

The project was first funded in part by a competitive grant from the State of Washington in the amount of $1,070,000 and was administered by the host district, Quillayute Valley, located in Forks, Washington. The initial funding allowed four of the school districts without networking in their secondary schools to attain a level comparable to the five with existing networks. Once this phase of project implementation was completed, the videoconferencing equipment was purchased and added to the network of each district. Following the networking of the secondary schools was the wiring of elementary and middle schools. This was made possible by another grant of nearly $900,000, again from the State of Washington.

The finances which have allowed WVC to operate and grow for the last three years have been the result of the efforts and support of Senator Patty Murray. Due to Senator Murray and her staff’s tireless efforts on behalf of the Washington Virtual Classroom, $750,000 in congressional appropriations have positively affected the lives of over 1100 students and 60 teachers in our state for the last three years. With the groundwork laid, we have been able to concentrate the last several years on curriculum and teacher training, which has allowed our students and teachers to gain in their knowledge and experience of critical environmental, technological and educational issues. WVC and its water quality project are viewed to be a model for other regions of this country to replicate, and each year sees increases in the quality of its online curriculum, used by all teachers and students involved in the project.

Offering coursework that will assist a wide variety of students in their pursuit of a given career pathway is a financial burden WVC districts cannot afford. They are faced with the necessity of sharing resources with each other. Telecommunications and video teleconferencing is making it possible to bring student and staff resources from each school to a shared format. For example, students desiring to pursue a career in the high-tech industry and students wishing to learn American Sign Language have difficulty receiving appropriate training in their small school districts where there are no teachers trained in these subjects. With our WVC network and videoconferencing capabilities, students from all twelve districts can take A+ Certification under the direction of one qualified instructor and others can learn American Sign Language due to participation of the Washington School for the Deaf in the consortium. Having to finance an A+ Certification program taught in twelve different locations, by twelve different instructors, to 1-10 students from each district is a financial burden none of the schools in this consortium can afford. But, due to the advantages of video teleconferencing and web-based instruction, students are now able to do just this.

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WVC is organized in a unique manner and promotes the sharing of resources across a larger geographic region. The water quality project can be integrated into any school district regardless of its location. This model poses to be a cost-effective means of educating large numbers of young learners to better understand the environment in which we all live.

WVC generates a tremendous opportunity for both educators and students to attain the advanced education required by 21st century jobs within our Information Economy. We are very thankful for the assistance we have received from our state’s political leaders, particularly Senator Murray. Without her belief in what we do, students all over our state would be shortchanged in their educational experience. With her assistance, they are achieving and learning in a unique and very effective manner.

Anyone wishing additional information on the WVC project is encouraged to contact Sherry Schaaf, Water Quality Project Coordinator, at sschaaf@esd114.wednet.edu or Jim Bennett, WVC Grant Administrator, at jbennett@olynet.com.