Once a week, 16-year-old Jamie Musselman practices her developing Japanese language skills with her instructor, Rikako Pounds, in a small office attached to the Pioneer Junior-Senior High School library.
Pounds isn’t there, though. She’s working from the Indiana Academy at Ball State University, and she’s teaching Jamie the language via webcam.
Jamie is one of 16 academically advanced students who have taken online college-prep courses this year at Pioneer. They picked the eight online classes either to study subjects in more depth than Pioneer’s classes currently go, or to pursue studies in areas, like Japanese, that regular classes don’t explore at all.
The school’s small enrollment — just under 450 in six grades — limits its ability to offer special classes, according to school officials.
Some Pioneer students have turned to online classes in past summers to stay on track for graduation, but over the last two years, the school has begun coordinating online courses for enrichment, too.
“For us it’s two focuses, one in terms of remediation and the other in terms of enhanced learning,” said Pioneer Superintendent Dave Bess. “This gives that student experience without obligating us to something that may only be of interest to a small number of students.”
If only a few students want to study a subject, or if the school can’t supply highly trained teachers for the class, guidance counselors look into other possibilities online.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to be able to expand our curriculum,”
said guidance counselor Karin Ulerick, who has coordinated the online classes this year.
“We can’t offer a class for just one student, or two kids,” Ulerick said.
“We can’t warrant one teacher for maybe a handful of students.”
Even the foreign language classes have been pared down to just Spanish, she said, because interest in French declined.