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Virtual High School

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Burlington, Vermont - January 25, 2008

Chinese may not be the easiest or the most popular foreign language offered at Burlington High School. But Chinese instructor Zhihang Hau is teaching a lot more students than you might think. In fact, he's teaching students from more than a dozen states, all without setting foot outside his Burlington classroom.

"They're from all over the country and I think I may have one or two students from outside of the United States as well," explains Hau.

Burlington High School is one of ten Vermont schools that participate in a program called Virtual High School. That means this classroom is all but empty about an hour each day... as Hau teaches Chinese online to students across the world.

"It's very different from a classroom like this, a face-to-face classroom. A lot of interactions are done through the internet and it can be very challenging for some of the students," says Zhihang.

In exchange, students at Burlington High School can take classes from other teachers around the world... classes not offered at their home school.

"You could take Arabic, you could take (advanced placement) Japanese, you could take some of those courses that some of our students have a real passion about but that we don't have the resources to teach at this level," explains BHS Principal Amy Mellencamp.

"I think it's a great way to use the talents of a teacher like Mr. Hau," says student Kevin Chu.

Only six Burlington students are enrolled in the Virtual High School program this year, but as many as 25 could take the online classes. Many of the courses are advanced placement classes, but others are basic core subjects like algebra. Those classes offer students who may be falling behind a chance to catch back up with the rest of their class and graduate on time.

"You really need to have self motivation and determination in order to do it, because for the online classes, there's no teacher to chase you for homework or assignments," says Zhihang.

And although learning Chinese is far from easy...

"It's pretty challenging, a lot of memorization for characters," says student Rhoen Pruesse-Adams.

...It's a subject students in many schools are excited to take, even if the teacher lives half a world away.

Keagan Harsha - WCAX News

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