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Students go extra mile in distance learning

Students at Unicoi County High School are going the distance with four additional courses offered through the county’s distance learning program.
According to UCHS Principal Becky Love, the state-of-the-art distance learning program allows interested UCHS students to enroll in courses that would otherwise be unavailable, thanks to the participation of other area schools and more than $100,000 of technological equipment. In addition, the program allows one teacher to teach more than one class in more than one location.
Love explained that through the distance learning program, UCHS students can now take Mandarin Chinese, which is taught via satellite feed from Greeneville High School, as well as French III, taught from Johnson County High School. On the flip side, UCHS offers German I and II to students at Greeneville High School.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for our students,” Love said. “We could never have a class like this for only four or five students. Chinese is big in our world economy. We could never afford to hire a teacher for a class of only five students. But now, we can hook up with a class of 10 students from another school that already has a teacher certified in that area. It’s a wonderful thing.”
The Distance Learning program is funded through a federal grant, Love said, adding that the Niswonger Foundation helped provide matching funds to equip UCHS with the state-of-the-art technology that makes the program possible. According to Love, the distance learning classes are supervised by an adult, but the students can still interact with the off-campus teacher, thanks to satellite feed transferred to television monitors. Students can still ask the teacher questions and receive answers during class.
“It’s phenomenal,” Love said. “We have $100,000 worth of technology in our classroom here. There is supervision in the classroom, but most of these students – young people–they like the technology, so they’re usually enthralled.
“Another thing that makes it so unique is that on Saturday, we were in school, while Greeneville was out of school. The instructor graciously came out on Saturday and taught the students face to face.”
Lynn Honeycutt, foreign language department chair, teaches German to her students at UCHS, and Greeneville High School. Last year, Lisa Lyle taught AP Calculus on distance learning to her UCHS students and to students at Johnson County High School.
On Saturday, The Erwin Record met with Jason Horne, the virtual learning coordinator from the Greeneville City School system. He explained that virtual learning is just in its early stages, saying that “it keeps growing.”
“With the new graduation requirements from the Tennessee Diploma Project, virtual learning is able to offer elective and other courses at no cost to the school system,” he said.
Hui Tian “Tina” is the Mandarin teacher at GHS and teaches to UCHS students through distance learning. Since GHS was not in school Saturday Tina came to UCHS to meet her students in person. Tina has only been able to see them online.
Tina is from the HuBei Province in China. She attended HuBei University where she received a masters degree in Chinese Literature. She teaches through the Confucius Institute based out of China, which sends English speaking teachers all over the United States.
Before she taught in Greeneville, Tina taught in Memphis for one year at an elementary school. Tina came to Greeneville in June 2010 to teach at GHS. Tina explained that students at GHS and UCHS both “learn and forget very quickly.”
“That is why we have to practice,” she said, “because practice makes perfect.”
On Saturday, Tina reviewed the tests that students at both UCHS and GHS recently took, saying the grades were about the same.
“They are very interested in Chinese,” Tina said of UCHS students. “Today (Saturday) was a good chance to meet the students.”
Joyce Lewis, a UCHS teacher who supervises the distance learning classroom, collects class work, homework, and tests from the five students enrolled in Mandarin at UCHS and faxes them to Tina at GHS.  
Haley Jeno, a UCHS junior is one of the five students enrolled in Mandarin through the Distance Learning Program. According to Jeno, the program offers the opportunity to learn a new language that wouldn’t ordinarily be available.
“I took it (Mandarin) because I thought it would be a challenge and I enjoy foreign languages,” Jeno said. “I did well in German I and II, so I thought I would enjoy Mandarin. I would much rather if we had Ms. Tina at our school, but still it is a great opportunity. This is a great choice that I made to take Mandarin.”
Love reported that school officials are currently working on another grant to expand the school’s distance learning opportunities in the hopes of growing the program to include even more courses.
“This is the second year of the Distance Learning Program,” Love said. “We started with one class teaching German to students at Greeneville High School. We have four going at this time, so it’s a good deal.”