June 17, 2011 — Coral Gables — Two years after it began offering a full slate of courses online, the University of Miami Global Academy has already reached a milestone, graduating its first class of students.
Dressed in her cap and gown and smiling from ear to ear, Jade McNitt walked down the aisle inside the University of Miami’s Newman Alumni Center one recent Friday under the proud gaze of her parents and friends, accepting a high school diploma cemented in honors courses and community service.
Her journey through high school was not a typical one. Instead of brick-and-mortar classrooms, Jade’s science, history, and English classes were taken in cyberspace.
The 18-year-old is one of the three inaugural graduates of the University of Miami Global Academy (UMGA), an online high school that has eliminated the confinement of classroom walls, allowing students from anywhere in the world to earn a diploma by taking courses taught via the Internet and through technologies such as Skype and Blackboard.
“We tend to attract students who are pursuing a passion and want a quality education,” explains Craig Wilson, school headmaster and executive director of online college programs.
UMGA’s enrollment of more than 500 full- and part-time students includes a female drag racer, a tennis pro, a touring concert pianist, and a ballerina—students, says Wilson, “who would be confined by a traditional school.”
Intrigued by the idea of earning her diploma without enduring some of the social pressures typically found in some high schools, Jade enrolled in UMGA after her sophomore year at a brick-and-mortar school, performing so exceptionally well in her classes—she graduated with a 3.78 grade point average—that the National Honor Society tapped her for induction.
UMGA’s small class sizes appealed to Jade, who describes her two-year experience in the program as “amazing.” She interacted with teachers and classmates via Skype and, though classes were held in the virtual world, she was able to participate in activities typical of conventional schools, such as joining the science club and writing for the school newspaper. As part of a service-learning component, she fostered feral cats through a program at the Humane Society, augmenting her work with an academic assignment related to her community efforts.
Now she plans to enroll in the Vancouver Film School in December, the first step in her dream of becoming a 3-D animator for Pixar Animation Studios.
“This is her time to shine,” says Jade’s mother, Julie, who attended her daughter’s graduation exercise with husband Dale on June 10.
Jade and two other students—one of them from Monaco—marched in that ceremony, switching their tassels to the left of their caps after receiving their diplomas, as is the custom at most commencements. The trio is UMGA’s first graduating class after the online school, which operates out of UM’s Division of Continuing and International Education, started offering classes two years ago.
About 135 courses are offered, from chemistry and AP physics to Latin and Mandarin Chinese. Students living in Australia, China, Honduras, Ireland, and Qatar are enrolled.
Those enrollment numbers, according to school headmaster Wilson, are expected to increase as online education gains traction across the nation. By the year 2014, an estimated ten million K-12 students will be enrolled in some form of online class, he said.
“Our notion of what an education is and where it should be held has to shift,” Wilson says. “What we’re finding is that more and more young people are lifelong learners who can’t be put in a box. They’re busy, and their schedules are getting busier.”
Wilson, a former active-duty Marine who served in the first Gulf conflict and eventually entered the U.S. Department of Education’s Troops-to-Teachers Program before earning doctoral and law degrees, says UMGA is adapting to the demand of its students, instituting new programs and classes to keep pace with their busy lifestyles. This fall the school launches an Extreme Scholars Program that will allow students to take courses at an accelerated rate, graduating from the school in half the time.
While some UMGA students will pursue professional careers after graduating, others will go on to college. The trio that marched in June, for example, received acceptance letters from 11 universities—the University of Arizona, Ole Miss, Loyola University New Orleans, and the University of Tampa among them.
Paige Kulling, who took advanced-placement biology and Spanish through UMGA to supplement the classes at her brick-and-mortar school, is now a student at Cornell, where she is conducting undergraduate research in ecology and evolutionary biology. She addressed Jade and the other two graduates at their June 10 commencement ceremony, telling them to “seize every opportunity” and “follow your dreams.”
For more information on UMGA, visit www.umga.miami.edu.
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