Twenty-two Columbia High School students will be the first in the White Salmon Valley School District to utilize a state-sponsored, web-based system that has been hailed as "the first high-tech learning tool of its kind in the nation."
Called the Washington Digital Learning Commons (DLC), the program aims to pierce barriers to learning and help students become better prepared for entry into the workforce of the 21st century.
"It's a fabulous opportunity our students have before them," CHS Principal Tim McGlothlin said. "It'll take the science of teaching and learning to a whole new level that we could only dream about before."
The office of Gov. Gary Locke, the Legislature and private foundations have provided funding for the statewide venture in partnership with the University of Washington, which administers and provides staff for the service.
According to McGlothlin, Columbia High will begin using the service this fall, offering 22 students the chance to access library resources, enroll in on-line classes and take enrichment courses during fall semester.
Another 22 students will be able to enjoy the benefits of the Digital Learning Commons in the spring.
"We may expand it to include more students," McGlothlin said of second-semester enrollment, "but we needed to begin with a controlled group in order to learn how best to serve our students' needs."
Instructors from the University of Washington will visit CHS in early September to provide training for the students and staff who will have access to the on-line service.
The program is the manifestation of Gov. Locke's belief that students in Washington should be able to take any course they want, regardless of where their school is located or their school's ability to give instruction in person.
DLC first became available in the fall of 2003 as a pilot project in 11 schools. By the start of the 2006 school year, the state hopes to have the system implemented in every K-12 school.
McGlothlin said the DLC offers rural communities like Bingen-White Salmon "a great opportunity for students and teachers to have access to a powerful website normally reserved for large libraries, government agencies and, generally, city dwellers."
He added, however, that without government and private funding, most communities wouldn't be able to afford the service's fees and charges. Moreover, the larger question looms as to how schools will pay for access once that subsidy runs out.
"That's the million-dollar question," McGlothlin said.
For the next year, however, CHS students will be able to utilize the service at no cost.
Once the service is up and running at Columbia High, McGlothlin said he plans to host an evening session for community members to come in and learn about how the DLC works and what it has to offer.