Twenty-one high school seniors graduated from the George Washington University Online High School program, now in its second year. They celebrated their accomplishments with a prom on Friday and graduation ceremonies on Saturday at GW’s Virginia Science and Technology Campus.
The GWUOHS is a private, accredited virtual high school that provides more than 100 college prep courses and electives in science, technology, liberal arts and business for academically oriented students. Since it was established in 2011, the school has seen tremendous growth. The program, which started with 16 students, now boasts 135 from all over the country and the world. GWUOHS will expand to offer middle school options for full-time students and Advanced Placement coursework for part-time students next fall.
Robert Ianacone, who serves as a liaison between GWUOHS and the university, said students who attend GWUOHS often come from families that travel frequently or have focused activities—like sports or acting careers—that make it difficult for them to attend traditional high schools. Others are seeking a more individualized alternative to traditional public or private brick and mortar schools. At GWUOHS, these students are able to interact through virtual communities. The school boasts an honors society, a student newspaper and a number of clubs and activities that meet online.
The celebrations this weekend presented a unique opportunity to physically bring students together. On Friday, students from all grades gathered in Innovation Hall for GWUOHS’s first prom.
Seniors attended Saturday’s ceremonies, which included a breakfast and welcoming remarks, a meet-and-greet event, senior capstone project presentations and a commencement ceremony.
During their capstone presentations, seniors shared projects they had worked on all year. The projects were part of GWUOHS’s Journeys Symposium, a four-year sequence of courses to prepare students for college and other post-secondary training opportunities. Seniors picked subjects they were interested in, paired up with a mentor, conducted research for nearly nine months and presented their final projects to faculty, family members and fellow classmates.
At the commencement ceremony, Dean Michael Feuer of GW’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development provided opening remarks in a video. Keynote speaker Ron Packard, CEO of K12 Inc., a company that develops curriculum for online schools, also addressed guests. K12 has a partnership with GW and helped develop GWUOHS curricula. Mr. Packard spoke about the importance of adapting to change—especially technological change—and how a virtual environment has given students the tools and independence they need to achieve their goals.
“All of you will see more change in your lifetime, but you’re taking a step toward the future by becoming self-learners and learning online. In fact, an education and an open mind are all you need to tackle the future,” he said. Luke Davis was one of this year’s proud graduates. He completed his online coursework from the Virgin Islands, where he lives with his family. Mr. Davis said attending GWUOHS was a challenge, but an “amazing experience.”
“A lot of hard work went into this,” he said. “The teachers support you, but you learn to do research on your own. It really made me more of an independent person.”
He and his family flew to D.C. for the weekend’s celebrations. “[I got to] meet kids from all over the country and the world, with so many different kinds of experiences,” he said.
His mother, Vera Davis, was impressed with the ceremony and the chance to meet dedicated GW community members.
“We were extremely happy one of the deans took the time to send a message and the CEO of K12 addressed the class,” she said. “It was really nice for us to have GW show its commitment to the program.”
Mr. Davis plans to attend Norwich University in Northfield, Vt., this fall. Known for its cadet program, the school gives students an opportunity to decide if they want to pursue military careers. Other graduates in Mr. Davis’s class will go on to universities including the Pratt Institute, Swarthmore College and New York University. Two students have been accepted to GW.
Maria Coyle, head of school at GWUOHS, said the graduation succeeded in bringing students, their families and faculty together.
“Graduation was a wonderful opportunity for the GWUOHS community to gather on campus and celebrate the great accomplishments of our seniors,” she said.