In early September, many Aiken County high school students will attend their traditional classes and then head to the library or another location – setting up a computer to take an online course in a lab setting through the S.C. Virtual School Program.

“I knew the program was around, and some of the kids at school use it. Sure, I was interested.” said Jason Rodgers, a South Aiken High math teacher.

He and more than two dozen other Aiken County teachers have chosen to work with the program this year. They attended a workshop earlier this week, led by State Department of Education officials affiliated with the virtual school. The state employees were joined by Fran Altringer, the Aiken County School District’s coordinator.

“It’s a whole new ballgame for all of us,” she said. “This is another way the schools can meet the needs of the students,” she said.

Virtual School educators designed the courses. The program is free to all students, who must be sponsored through a public school. Participating students graduate from their home schools.

The Aiken School District and the state program are collaborating on a major new approach this year. Currently, teachers throughout the state work with students from any school district, but that won’t be done in Aiken.

The Aiken school system will be the first to operate its own program, functioning as a franchise of the state virtual school and hiring only its own District teachers.

During the school day, the students will be in a lab setting with a proctor, who serves as a monitor and also provides assistance if students encounter technology issues. The teachers will have designated times to be available after school. When a student asks a question through email or Skype, “you have to respond right now,” said Deirdre Edwards, the virtual program’s curriculum coordinator.

Registration will begin Aug. 18, with courses starting Sept. 8. Parents and their children can register and get more information from their school’s guidance counselor.

For the first semester, students can only take one course. The Aiken virtual program is not yet set up for private and home-school students, Altringer said.

The educators will be “more facilitators than teachers,” she said. “They will have constant communication, but won’t have many of the same issues as they would in a classroom setting. There will be a lot of responsibility on the students,” who, through the proctors, will learn how to communicate their needs.

Ginger Dunker, a South Aiken English teacher for 23 years, also wants to participate in the virtual program.

“The face of education is changing,” she said. “There will be more technology involved with a growing online platform. It’s not only technology, but is a more economical way to function. There also are kids who need to do this.”

For more than a year, Dunker has taken online courses for a graduate degree. She has found such opportunities as positive, and “I’ve met a lot of people that way, from all over the world.”

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard’s education reporter and has been with the newspaper since 2001.