Sunday, August 9, 2009

Virtual School Hopes to Offer Welcoming Community for Gays

As part of an effort to provide a safe learning environment for students who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning their sexual orientation, a new school for them plans to launch in January 2010. It will be entirely online.

Billed as the first virtual school of its kind, the GLBTQ Online High School's website asks prospective students to "Imagine a school where you can be you. Where your friends share similar experiences and similar questions." It is the brainchild of David Glick, a 25-year education veteran who has helped develop K through 12 online learning programs throughout the country and beyond.

Glick says the ninth- through 12th-grade school will offer a high-quality, college-preparatory education and will serve as a safe haven for LGBT students who have been harassed or bullied at their current schools, as well as provide a destination for students who opt to pursue their schooling online.

Feeling unsafe at school is a problem for many LGBT students. According to a recent study by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, almost 9 out of 10 such students have experienced harassment in their schools, and nearly a third of all LGBT students have missed school because of feeling unsafe.

"We're looking to focus on the positives and connect those students so they can learn from each other," says Glick.

So far, a couple of dozen students from across the country have applied to the private, tuition-based school, but Glick and Dean of Operations Doug Bright are hoping for 50 before they open for business.

Bright says that there is no specific criteria on the types of students they're looking for and that what interests them most is the whole picture. "We're not necessarily going to say 'no' just because you might have a 2.0 GPA," he says.

Some criticize the Maplewood, Minn.-based school—as well as brick-and-mortar LGBT schools such as those featured here—for skirting the underlying problems and promoting segregation rather than understanding and acceptance.

David Johnson, who teaches social psychology at the University of Minnesota, told the Maplewood area Fox News affiliate that it would be better to put LGBT students in a regular high school setting. An online school would only further alienate them, he says.

Glick and Bright acknowledge such arguments but maintain that schools like theirs serve a vital purpose.

"Honestly, I hope we're not in this business forever," says Bright. "But the fact remains that many schools—especially in rural areas—don't offer good support services for the gay community. And as an online school, we can reach those students, wherever they are."

Glick says that many students and educators have expressed excitement with the idea, find it provocative and positive, and think it will allow students to focus on academics.

The school's curriculum will consist of mainstream courses, including advanced placement classes, with opportunities to customize for each student's needs. A course is also being planned so students can learn more about the LGBT community and the political and cultural issues it faces.

Glick says that as the school grows he would like to organize "cluster events" in cities so students can enjoy face-to-face learning activities. He and Bright are also hoping to start a summer camp next year for students both from the school and from outside it.

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