Making Connections through Online Student Clubs

How does one take the distance out of distance education?

At Florida Virtual School, one way we strive to do that is through our online clubs. We believe our clubs create a four-way community involving parents, students, teachers and the school. The clubs promote camaraderie among partners usually vastly removed from each other. Like clubs in a traditional setting, they also allow for further exploration of the subject beyond the school lesson.

Presently, we have three clubs: the Science Club, the Junior Classical League, and our newspaper, News In a Click. These clubs are outgrowths of the respective classroom disciplines.

All clubs receive Email in a specially designated club area. Sponsors routinely monitor this space looking for mail pertinent to them. Students use this area to reach the sponsor(s) because often the sponsor is not their teacher. Also, in this area, the Science Club houses content via modules on Earth-Space Science Week, the Science Olympiad, Field Trips, Save the Animals and Earth Day, to name a few topics, and maintains all necessary forms for competition. They also hold club meetings here to discuss their future activities and determine dates, times, etc. Any Florida Virtual School student is eligible to join in the activities.

For students with a passion for expressing themselves, whether via the written word or artistically, the Newspaper Club has something to offer. FLVS students come from different backgrounds. Some are homeschooled, while others are traditional students who take courses with FLVS because they do not have room in their schedules at their “brick and mortar†schools. The opportunity to participate in a newspaper online is an appealing option for students.

The Newspaper Club’s approximately 40 members help to produce a monthly newsletter appropriately named News in a Click. Students must obtain parental permission for FLVS to publish their work. Once a month staff members meet virtually with their sponsor in the club’s chat room to discuss articles for upcoming issues. After student reporters submit their work, the sponsor edits it and then the issue is laid out in DreamWeaver in preparation for publication to the FLVS website.

The Junior Classical League is a national organization; therefore, those students must be Latin students during the current academic year who have paid their dues to the National and State governing bodies. Presently, the school has a membership of 66 students. The FLVS JCL has its own club area within the platform. The content consists of seminars based on pictures from the teachers’ travels around the Roman world. Chat sessions complete the presentation of the seminars and are open to students and parents alike. The necessary forms for competition will be found here and it is here where students are provided a practice area for those competitions.

Field trips offer the students, their parents, and other family members fun opportunities to meet staff members and other virtual students, and sometimes to even meet their classmates. These field trips sometimes offer interesting logistical arrangements for a faculty spread out across the state. As an example of this, in the past, the Science Club has organized turtle watches for the students. We sponsored three turtle watches at various locations around the state. This enabled more students and their families to attend. The club sponsor lived near one of the turtle watch sites. But, the other two sites were at a great distance, so another faculty member who lived close by attended and led the group. This is the essence of teamwork in an online faculty! Meeting each other virtually is one thing, but meeting in person is especially exciting for newspaper students; in the past they have traveled to Orlando to participate in the Orlando Sentinel’s Journalism Workshop. Latin teachers have arranged field trips to several museums. They try to offer a rotation of events, so all sections of the state have these opportunities, but often it is a case of simply where the opportunity arises. It is great fun to meet our students and their parents in a museum and then have lunch with them!

Our clubs also provide competitive opportunities for the students and our students have excelled, winning everything from a trophy for oral Latin to a gold medal for bottle rockets. How does one promote oral Latin when the teacher lives in the middle of the state and the student lives in the panhandle? By the telephone voice recorder, of course! The teacher called when she knew no one would be home and left the passage on the recorder. The student retrieved the tape when she came home from her traditional school that day. She practiced it regularly, met the teacher at the competition and they worked on delivery the night before the competition in the hotel room. For virtual teachers and students, there’s more than one way to skin a cat! Through the JCL, FLVS provides the chance for students to compete on local, state and national levels.

The Science Club students compete at the State Science Olympiad. They work in small groups and prepare at a distance. The students utilize the online chat area, whiteboard area, instant messenger, Email and phone to prepare for the events. The first time the students meet face to face is at the competition. The students can be at opposite ends of the state and still work closely on projects, research, and other preparations by utilizing the technology available to them. Each year the team wins medals in a variety of events.

FLVS is proud of the work the newspaper staff produces, and so, apparently, are others: the newsletter was honored in 2002 when it won a Spotlight Award for excellence in feature writing from the League of American Communications Professionals. Take a peek at our handiwork, News in a Click

Certainly there are logistical hurdles. For anyone who has ever run a club, the issues of getting money in a timely fashion from students, financial accounts, transportation, chaperones, permissions, reservations, etc. are still there and often are magnified. An example of this magnification is that instead of preparing students for one regional competition, the JCL sponsors prepare them for nine statewide, each with different dates, deadlines, costs, categories, etc. It can be a challenge. Each school will have to determine its own response to how these issues are handled. However, when standing in the middle of a hotel lobby, holding a sign with your school name and, for the first time, you meet the shy student or the student whose voice always bubbles on the phone and you put a face with that voice and name, it is truly great fun!

Interest clubs are definitely a part of life at FLVS. A very fluid book club has begun for faculty members, with multiple books simultaneously being discussed via Email and a multitude of suggestions being offered for future reading. There is truly a book for all and plans are in the works for eventual expansion to student participation. Interested parties have discussed chess and scrabble and we are looking forward to their inclusion in the future.

Clubs are a natural extension of the online classrooms. They promote a sense of community and allow students opportunity for interactive collaboration. The online environment is a dynamic interactive venue for clubs. They provide opportunities for students and their families to be involved in the school and promote a sense of belonging, ownership and pride. There is an acute level of participation from all ability levels. Go ahead. Give it a try. You too will find clubs are threads that link together many facets of the online classrooms.