We have a lot of wide open spaces in Guthrie, Texas, which sits in the third least populated county in the nation. There are great big skies, beautiful open range land, and plenty of room for cattle, horses and kids to roam.
In our area, there are several rural school districts that serve a relatively small student population. Finding certified and highly qualified teachers is often a struggle in remote West Texas, especially in high need areas such as math, science and foreign language.
About five years ago, a group of area school superintendents needed to find a solution for the shortage of certified foreign language teachers in their collective small districts. I had worked for some of these administrators early in my teaching career, so they reached out to me with a proposition.
Because the Rosetta Stone program was such a standard in language learning, the group wanted to use it to provide foreign language credit on their campuses. Additionally, they insisted that a certified language teacher guide the learning and assign the grades for credit.
I agreed to serve as the certified teacher of record and went to work familiarizing myself with the Rosetta Stone program and curriculum. Because of the vast distance between school districts, I couldn’t possibly be present on all the represented campuses. My guidance and reporting procedures would have to be done remotely. Essentially, I was accepting a position as a distance learning instructor.
My new job initially consisted of sending pacing guides and syllabi to my new students and explaining how and where they should work in the Rosetta Stone program. I was serving seven school districts and approximately 150-200 students. I monitored progress, provided grades as needed, and traveled at least once a semester to visit each campus.
During my visits, I saw really amazing things happening. The Rosetta Stone program was rigorous, and the students were engaged, learning and making huge gains in language acquisition. I spent my time on the campuses teaching, reinforcing concepts, answering questions and getting to know the kiddos behind the names on my report page.
I loved closing the distance, and I craved the interaction with my students. It was exciting to be part of such an innovative approach to teaching, but I walked away from the visits frustrated that my time and interaction with the kids was so limited. The wide open spaces of West Texas were the very thing keeping me from my new students, and I was determined to create a virtual classroom that would allow me to have it all.
The Rosetta Stone online classroom was working well as the core content of the Spanish program, so I decided that it would stand as the ‘meat’ of my virtual Spanish courses. The rigor, repetition and the level of engagement required of the students was irreplaceable.
My next move was to find a way to capture and replicate my favorite elements of a traditional classroom in my new virtual space. I wanted a platform where I could carve out my own virtual corner in the wide open spaces of the world wide web to teach, learn and interact with my students, while building and reinforcing the concepts covered in the Rosetta Stone curriculum.
After months of scheming and designing, I debuted my new online Spanish classes, never dreaming what the future might hold for this blended approach to distance learning. What has happened has been nothing short of amazing. What began as an idea to use the Rosetta Stone program as a distance learning tool evolved into the creation of our own virtual school.
Guthrie Virtual School began as a means of providing world-class learning to districts that found themselves short on resources or options. We assembled a team of energetic and innovative teachers willing to work, create and personalize learning activities using the Rosetta Stone curriculum and other resources.
Out here in the wide open spaces of West Texas, faced with limited resources and long distances to travel, it would be easy to focus on the obstacles to educational pursuits. We choose every day to shift our focus in the opposite direction.
By leveraging world-class materials, such as the Rosetta Stone program, we are able to create incredible learning experiences not only for the children who attend the brick and mortar school in Guthrie, Texas but for any student from any school district in the world.
Wide open spaces can actually provide limitless educational opportunities, if you are brave enough to venture out with some untested ideas.
Summer Reel is a virtual Spanish teacher who serves hundreds of students across the state of Texas each year. After spending the first few years of her teaching career in a traditional classroom, Summer now serves as a course designer, instructor and registrar for Guthrie Virtual School in Guthrie, Texas.