High School Student Thrives with Online Learning

Sophie GarrettMost 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.

Sophie StudiesIf 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.” Continue reading

The Artists of Alva: Brian Tighe

Be True to Yourself

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Brian Tighe believes in the familiar phrase, “When one door closes another door opens.” His experiences in life, both good and bad, drive him to be a better artist and a better person. Though his greatest passion is art, Brian’s ultimate goal is to bring a positive light into the world.

Like most budding artists, Brian started out doodling in his notebook during class. Unfortunately school was not a riveting experience for him. Not only was there a lack of art classes growing up, but also most of his general courses simply didn’t grab his attention.

“I really didn’t think school was my thing to begin with,” Brian said. “But I enjoyed it more towards the end when my degree got more specific.”

He grew up watching a lot of Disney animated movies and was intrigued by their productions. When Brian watched Finding Nemo for the first time in 2003, he was blown away by the incredible quality of the film and the 3D animations. He decided that was the direction he wanted to go in for his career—making animated art. Continue reading

Keeping The Balance That’s Right: Work Hard, Play Harder

There is a special smile that comes over Tim Loudermilk’s face when he looks at a tablet, or really any new gadget that he can get his hands on. You’ll see a Mac and a PC in his office at any given time, and an iPad by his side wherever he goes. Technology is his first love, but it wasn’t always that way. There was one other love in Tim’s life before his passion for technology began.

Tim Loudermilk was born in the small town of Norwood, Ohio, just outside of Cincinnati. His father worked in the auto manufacturing industry, like most people in the town since it was a prominent manufacturing location. Most kids who got out of high school either went to college or worked on Camaros. But Tim did neither; he just played ice hockey.

“I think I viewed education like most kids do–as an opportunity to play sports,” he said. “I was a big ice hockey player.” After high school, Tim took a year off and worked for the Boston Bruins as their equipment manager. The job gave him unlimited amounts of time on the ice. From there, he joined the hockey team at Ohio State University.

“I was a left wing at Ohio State University and just had an absolute blast playing hockey,” Tim said. “I enjoyed hockey, but finally realized that I was going to either play hockey or graduate. And since I didn’t really have a shot at the pros, I focused on my academics.”

At the time, Ohio State had one of the largest grants from NASA, providing enormous computer facilities and programs to its students. Tim took advantage of that and spent less time on the ice and more time in the computer lab.

After graduating college, Procter and Gamble recruited Tim to work in its management systems program. Out of the thirty-two selected, Tim was one of two who had a degree in computer science. Continue reading

The Artists of Alva: Heather Little

This is the first post in our new series of articles, “The Artists of Alva”. Each one will feature one of our talented staff and show not only some of their personal and professional artwork, but also what inspires them and drives them creatively. 

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Creative Director Heather Little loves working on a blank canvas—starting from scratch and using that freedom to create anything imaginable. However, she has chosen the canvas of the computer as the backdrop for her art instead of the easel. She has been professionally creating digital art since she graduated with a BFA degree in graphic design in 1996.

“I pursued experimenting and creating art using a computer because the possibilities are endless; technology is always evolving,” she said. “Plus, I really don’t like getting dirty with chalk or paint all over myself.”

Heather’s first piece of digital art was done on the Commodore 64 computer when it first came out with paint programs in 1986. The picture was of a night cityscape of the riverfront in downtown Cincinnati, OH, where she grew up.

“That’s when I realized that I really loved technology,” she said, “…that there was this new drawing software program that you could use to make art. It wasn’t just about painting or drawing anymore; the computer was another tool. I saw it as the future of art.” Continue reading