Most high school kids start their morning rushing to the car to make it to class, but for 15-year-old Sophie Garrett, school starts in the comfort of her own room—online. On a typical Monday, Sophie begins her day at 10:30 a.m. when her dog Marty jumps on the bed and licks her face. She then walks down the stairs to get some breakfast, usually chocolate chip waffles with tea, and then returns to her bedroom for class. Since her professors and classmates will only see her from the waist up on camera, Sophie stays in her pajama pants, but puts on a presentable T-shirt.
The Stanford Online High School (OHS) is based in Stanford, California, so even though class officially starts at 8:30 a.m., around the world kids are following a different schedule. Sophie is on Eastern Standard Time, so her classes are pushed forward three hours—starting at 11:30 a.m. and ending at 10 at night.
“This is a teenager’s dream, staying up late and sleeping in,” Sophie’s mother Wendy says. “Eight o’ clock in the evening is kind of primetime for her, so it works with her biological clock.”
Sophie’s first class is Latin, one of her favorites. She logs onto the program Saba Centra and puts her headphones on to prevent hearing any reverberation or Marty barking. As students enter the virtual classroom, they chat using a text box at the bottom of the screen. This gives boys and girls the opportunity to socialize before and after class like they would in a typical high school.
As the professor begins the lecture, a video window pops up so everyone can see his or her face. On the computer screen, students watch the agenda slide, which is much like a PowerPoint presentation, to follow along with the content.
If a student has a question, they can click the “hand-raise button” to get the professor’s attention. The teacher can also call on students in class and bring up their face on camera for everyone to see. Much like a blended classroom, these “classes” operate more like discussion times. Students do their homework, reading, and group projects in between them.
Classes are organized much like a college schedule; she doesn’t have them every day. On off days, Sophie does homework and participates in extracurricular activities, like exercising with the Wii Fit to get her PE credit or singing in the Girl Choir of South Florida. Maximizing her time by participating in these activities and working hard in her accelerated curriculum means less time wasted, which is exactly why Sophie started OHS in the first place.
“The reason I wanted to go online specifically, and not to a brick and mortar school, is that I went to a regular middle school and I always found myself bogged down by all the extra time that was being wasted,” Sophie said. “It was actually very difficult to sit down and do work or study at all because everyone was always talking around me and being noisy. And online you don’t have those distractions.”
Sophie also realized she was way ahead of her classmates. The middle school she attended had to bring in an advanced reading curriculum just for her. The Stanford Online High School however, meets gifted students at their level of education and offers challenging studies. In OHS, students take each course based upon their appropriate skill levels. This is why Sophie’s classmates are various ages, from 10 to 17.
“I really love every aspect of it,” she affirms. “I’ve always loved learning and I’ve always wanted to be able to learn more. I feel like now at this online school I actually get the opportunity to do so.”
Wendy and Tate Garrett never thought their daughter would be getting her education online at such an early age, but they soon discovered it was a perfect fit for not only Sophie, but for the entire family. Wendy can stay home with her, she doesn’t have to make the lengthy commutes to school, and they can travel anywhere throughout the year. Since Sophie can take her classes with her wherever she goes, she can login to discussions while on a jet plane or in a London hotel.
This summer, Sophie will be spending her time traveling with the girl choir, but come August she will be at Stanford for its summer session. It’s a special opportunity for online students to take classes at the university for a few weeks to get some in-person education. During the summer session, students participate in more hands-on activities, like doing labs and stargazing.
Sophie’s long-term plans involve going into the science field and helping others. She has big dreams, all from a place of being inspired to make this earth a better place to live.
“At least at this point, I see my life taking the direction of bioengineering because I don’t want to just sit there; I want to make something and do something for the world for the better,” she says. “I feel like if I could cure some obscure disease far into the future, and save a couple people’s lives, that would mean the world to me.”
Though Sophie has loved her high school experience online, she is still unsure about what she wants to do for college. She is leaning towards going the traditional approach of living on campus. However, her father Tate thinks that by the time she goes to college, she’ll be required to do a lot of her classwork online anyway. Currently, one-third of college students are taking a class online even though they live in the dorm.
“I think the way they are learning today is the way they are going to work tomorrow,” Tate says. “Because you look at our company and we’ve got staff living all over the country. We have a technology officer in Tennessee who collaborates and creates documents online, presentations online, and goes to meetings online. My daughter is learning all of this in high school. It’s a lot better to learn it now as opposed to learning it on the job later. So I actually think this is the way the world works now, and she is on the cutting edge of that.”
Tate also believes that as professors lean towards the discussion format over the traditional lecture, they will need more tools to keep class engaging. Teachers also need a better online platform to keep them organized and to manage their learning objects.
“We’ll go from completely online programs to blended programs and materials that supplement your in-class discussion,” Tate says. “Sophie’s already living it in high school, but every college in the future is going to be that way.”