A Virtual High School Experience of High Repute

The power rankings featured all the usual suspects, including Harvard-Westlake, Flintridge Prep and Pasadena Polytechnic, which checked in high among the private schools sorted by factors such as academics and college readiness.
Meanwhile, another California institution that has started to make itself at home high in such rankings is not quite like the others.
Coming in second in the nation among college readiness in an evaluation of the nation’s 8,000-plus private schools: Stanford Online High School.
According to that assessment recently published by Business Insider and compiled by Niche.com, Stanford Online High School also was identified as the third-best private school in the nation overall, and tops in California.
In that same category, the state’s second- and third-rated schools, Harvard-Westlake and Flintridge Prep, were respectively ranked sixth and 11th, nationally.
But how does that work? How does an online school — even one associated with Stanford University — compare so well with its successful brick-and-mortar counterparts?
La Cañada Flintridge resident Samantha Loui can explain. She’s a student at Stanford Online High School, and an enthusiastic one, who says she and her virtual classmates appreciate the uniqueness of their situation.
“We joke about how we are a school that doesn’t really exist,” said Loui, who is a senior at the online school.
“We have a lot of jokes about our campus, whether our campus is a couple of trailers or whether we’re worldwide, every single house.”
“OHS,” as Loui often calls it, is more than a couple of trailers. In its 10th year, it caters to 650 students between the 7th and 12th grades in 27 countries and 23 time zones, offering college-style seminars using real-time web-based video conferencing. Tuition for 2016-17 runs $19,950 for full-time students and $12,400 for part-timers. The school’s curriculum features accelerated, university-level courses that are taught, more often than not, by instructors holding doctoral degrees in their disciplines.
Loui is a gifted student whose interests straddle humanities and STEM-related subjects, and a lover of Latin who has been accepted to Stanford University, where she anticipates majoring in physics or math but also expects to change her mind before it’s over.
Loui, 18, attended Flintridge Prep from 7th through 10th grade. But some health complications combined with her serious pursuit of dance led to lots of missed classes. “And teachers were not OK with that,” she said.
So a couple of years ago, she opted to take a nontraditional route to finish her secondary education, enrolling in an independent study program via Glendale Unified School District’s Verdugo Woodlands Academy and supplementing those courses with some at Glendale Community College.
But none of those programs offered the level of Latin that Loui was looking for.
“And I very much wanted to continue with Latin, so Stanford Online came about because Verdugo Academy said it was an option they accepted,” Loui said.
She’d already completed Latin 3 at Flintridge Prep. At Stanford Online, a placement test indicated she was suited for … Latin 3.
“The minute I walked out of the placement test, I was like, ‘I don’t even care about [advanced-placement Latin], just stick me in Latin 3,” said Loui, who reported that the literature she was studying in that Stanford Online class was even more advanced that what her friends were dealing with in Latin 4 at Flintridge Prep.
“She was saying, ‘Oh, it’s so hard, Mom,’” said Rose Chan Loui. “I said, ‘Let’s call the teacher and chat.’ And [the teacher] said, basically, that’s what they do: They teach at the college level. She was like, ‘You’re just uncomfortable because you don’t know everything, but you will.’ It’s a good example of everything [Samantha’s] had there.”
Loui earned an A in the course and built a close relationship with that Latin teacher, Anna Pisarello, who wound up writing Loui’s college recommendation letter for her.
“Which is cool,” Rose Chan Loui said. “Even though [Pisarello] teaches online, they can form that [bond].”
In some ways, Stanford OHS classes are not so different from typical classes on any high school campus in America: Students listen together to a lecture and engage in discussion.
Of course, that discussion happens on a screen, and those questions and comments are augmented by the running instant-messaging that’s also ongoing — “you hear a lot of blips coming out of her computer,” Rose Chan Loui said.
“I actually just texted a friend, ‘How do you do discussions in real classes?’” Samantha said. “Because in an online classroom no one interrupts you, which is great. There’s not the jerk in the English class who likes to hear his own voice. Discussions in online classes are very orderly.”
The school also arranges for relatively regular regional meetups that allow students to gather in-person, and its clubs, which normally meet via Skype, also find ways to get together.
“A lot of the time, you kind of stare at them for a while and you can’t quite place their body with their head,” Samantha Loui said. “Just at this most recent Latin Con, there’s someone I’ve known for two years, and I went up and hugged her and because it was the first time we were meeting in person, and she was like, ‘Hi. What’s your name?’”
The average Stanford Online class size is 15 students. And its participants — who are placed by ability and not age — can be anywhere in the world. They’re often traveling if they’re among the ice skaters, ballerinas, tennis players, actors, marathoners or models who are enrolled.
For her part, Samantha Loui has found that Stanford Online’s block schedule has freed her up to take private dance classes at the best studios in Hollywood during the day, which is when they’re available.
Her Stanford Online classes — which this year have included multivariable calculus, AP physics, Russian literature of the 19th and 20th centuries, AP microeconomics and a for-fun leadership course — happen Monday through Thursday in the mornings and evenings. Friday is club day, which for Loui includes Latin Club and also, formerly, the Robotics Club.
Being a Stanford Online pupil wasn’t, for the record, Loui’s ticket to Stanford. She said she was the only one of her peers to receive an early acceptance to their high school’s namesake, and that most of her classmates have their sights set elsewhere anyway.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve gotten that question: ‘Is it an in to Stanford?’ No!” said Rose Chan Loui, who also attended Stanford, as did her husband, Warren. So deep is the Stanford tradition in the family that Samantha’s parents, who moved to LCF in 1987, own a wine company they call “Cardinal Rule.”
If there is any “in,” Samantha thinks it’s simply “the fact that if you’re at OHS, you’re an interesting, smart person.”
“And you have a challenging curriculum behind you,” Rose added.
One that is being recognized in published school rankings: “So now,” said Samantha, “we can say, ‘Hey, we’re a really good school, and we exist.’”

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