“We are the unknown secret of the Mizzou campus.”
That is how Mizzou K-12 Online Director Zac March initially describes the unique high school which is providing high-quality, accredited courses to students around the world.
But the program has a long history, starting as a provider of correspondence courses for high school students in rural areas in 1913.
“We did that up until the 1990s when the internet came on board and then we switched our medium to online,” said March. “Around the same time, we said that we were capable of offering more than just individual courses and we became an accredited high school through AdvancED.”
The school’s population has always been about half Missouri students and half students from all over.
“In the last couple of years, our international piece has caught fire,” said March, noting that the school serves students in China, Honduras, Vietnam, Serbia, Croatia.
But the most interesting international partnership is in Brazil where Mizzou K-12 serves about 2,500 students.
“We serve about 60 schools in Brazil,” said March. “They do a dual diploma option so the students go for a Brazillian curriculum from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. and then from 2 in the afternoon until 6 p.m. or 8 p.m. take the U.S. program through us. They graduate with two diplomas. It is a lot of work for these kids but they get a full language immersion experience and they can walk away with the confidence that they have earned a high school degree in America.”
Mizzou K-12 uses a co-teaching model in Brazil.
“We have teachers here in the U.S. working with teachers in Brazil,” said March. “We do all of the assessments and they do the day to day activities. It is a great way to tie the local culture of the teacher and the student with us three to four thousand miles away.”
March said he hopes to eventually grow the program so that students across the globe will be able to be taking the same courses together.
“Then we could really start to see that diversity of cultures coming together,” he said. “We have started that with our middle school courses this year where it is based on the green challenges of the United Nations. Those are things that affect all cultures and countries and we are able to bring kids together from all those different cultures to talk about how to solve these issues.”
All Mizzou K-12’s programs are offered through an online platform called Canvas, a platform used by many colleges and universities for higher ed virtual classes.
“We have actually partnered with Canvas using a grant from AT&T to write an app for students that have limited access to the internet,” said March. “It is for students in rural Missouri or in Africa who cannot find dependable internet access. The students can download the material and work on all of their assignments and then when they get access to an internet connection they can resync.”
He said the app is also used by students who are traveling either for fun or because they are competing in high-level sports. A number of the school’s students are well-known athletes including Gracie Gold who recently won a gold at the U.S. Figure Skating Championship.
All of the courses are offered in an asynchronous environment so that students can work at their own pace at any time of the day.
“A lot of research has shown that five to six minutes of video is about all that a student can take before they move on to something else,” said March, noting that students have the ability to rewatch videos and lessons as many times as they need.
School districts through out the state of Missouri can partner with Mizzou K-12 to bring single courses into their curriculum and students can enroll directly as full-time high school students with the program.
“A lot of our business is from school districts who have lost a teacher or cannot offer an advanced class in a small area,” said March. “Three years ago that was the majority of our student base, but over the last three years, we have moved to more diploma students. Of our 6,000 students, about half are international diploma students.
“Some students do take a full curriculum through us,” he added. “Sometimes it is because of medical reasons or because they are athletes or actors. Sometimes it is a student who wants to move through the curriculum faster. It is not uncommon for us to have a kid graduate at 12 or 13 years old. We had one student who did that and went on to get two masters and a doctorate at 22 and become a professor at 23.”
March said that students in the Mizzou K-12 program are served by about 25 counselors and administrators and around 150 instructors, but noted that the program can also provide unique virtual education experience for teachers and administrators in Mizzou’s School of Education.
“One of our long-term goals is to provide a rotation for them to be able to teach in our courses so they can understand what it takes to develop an online curriculum,” said March. “We are also doing that for some of our superintendents and principals so they will be exposed to how to evaluate online faculty and curriculum when they go to their home districts.”
Students in the Mizzou K-12 program who meet certain guidelines in the program will be guaranteed admission to the University of Missouri when they graduate.
“There are actually scholarships for students who meet that criteria and it is open to any and all of our students,” said March. “We are also in discussion with the university about doing transfer credit courses. We offer 10 AP courses right now and we are going to expand that to do a STEM focused AP track.”