BY FRANCINE KNOWLES
October 22, 2013 1:50PM
Updated: October 22, 2013 5:57PM
The Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Schools is going digital.
As of Tuesday, the nation’s largest private school system is offering online classes to middle and high school students through its new Virtual Academy as a complement to existing classes taught at its schools, the institution announced.
The move could one day pave the way for the school system to offer online diplomas, according to Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, superintendent of the school system.
The new online curriculum covers all core middle school and high school subjects, including math, science, social studies and language arts. Students also will be able to choose from 45 elective courses, including computer programming, six languages, music and art appreciation.
Middle School tuition is $289 for each half-year course covering 18 weeks, and $399 for each full-year course covering 36 weeks.
At the high school level, tuition for a full-year course ranges from roughly $149 to $749 depending on the number and types of courses.
Tuition at the Archdiocese’s physical schools ranges from about $2,800 at the smallest elementary and middle schools to $18,000 at a high school for enrollment in six classes with extracurricular activities.
“We are very excited to launch our Virtual Academy,” said Sister McCaughey. “We believe this is an opportunity to serve students, to be able to differentiate instruction. It’s another tool.”
Students could ultimately have the option of graduating from an online archdiocesan school, although its premature to predict that with certainty, she suggested.
“We are looking at that,” she said. “I think we want to get our feet wet, make sure that everything works, that [the courses] have the rigor that we need and that there’s great school communication. But I think down the line we can take a look to see if we want to be a literal virtual academy, to really engage home schoolers or others who want to get that kind of diploma online.”
The Virtual Academy unveiled Tuesday is designed for accelerated learners, students who wish to take additional advanced placement courses, those who want to explore enrichment options and students who are training for competition or careers, including athletes and musicians. It also targets students who are unable to attend a traditional school due to travel, family situations, and illness; need more time than the standard classroom time to master concepts; and those who have learning challenges, the school system said.
Earlier this month, the city of Chicago announced it will provide free online tutoring seven days a week through the Chicago Public Library system for first-graders through high school seniors.
The Archdiocese of Chicago school system serves 84,000 students in 244 schools in Cook and Lake counties.