How Well Can a Web-Based High School Teach Gay Kids?

By Editor Editor · Thursday, August 6, 2009

There’s Harvey Milk High in New York City. And Chicago was looking into plans to launch its own gay-friendly high school. But what about students who don’t live in a big city, which have the numbers to support such institutions? Then maybe they can attend high school on the web.

Based in Minnesota, the GLBTQ Online High School aims to be a refuge for gay kids and their families who want nothing more than a safe haven for learning — without the threat of harassment and bullying from classmates. It’s a project from David Glick, the (first) online learning coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Education, and hopes to get online for the 2010 school year.

Unlike public schools, however, this one costs money: $5,900 per student for the full 2009-10 year, or $525 per course for part-time students. (There’s a $50 application fee.)

So what can students expect? Aside from online teaching, there’s the social networking aspect: A guarded, students-only site with “online social events [that] will provide students with fun and less structured opportunities to get to know each other. In cases where we have multiple students in a particular area, we can have face-to-face gatherings as well!”

Online schools aren’t new, but this one remains ambitious. Anecdotal evidence tells us gay kids and their families are particularly adept at new technology and the web (often, the Internet is the only place many young gay people can turn to socialize), so we imagine this is the perfect demographic for early adopters. But $5,900 is a steep price for any family these days.

That said, we’re in love with this idea, at least on its face. Gay kids need a safe place to learn. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be afforded the same opportunities to brush up on solving proofs and the periodic table like everyone else. But while some high school environments just aren’t safe for gay teens, an online high school is a temporary solution for a much bigger problem: LGBT students still aren’t completely safe in their own schools.

According to GLBTQ Online High School’s FAQ, here’s how the school will work:

Students and teachers use a robust suite of online communication tools to share information, ask questions and access curriculum. Online curriculum uses video, text, animations and other multimedia to present and assess content. Teachers provide guidance, answer questions, administer oral exams over the phone, and otherwise provide a wide range of assistance.

Students can work from home or anywhere else there is access to the Internet. Although some activities are done in “real time,” most activities and assessments allow the student to complete them at anytime. Students can work at their own pace, on their own schedule and from wherever they choose.

This has promise, to an extent. We like the idea of “learning from anywhere.” It’s something we embrace around Queerty: Our staff works from all around the U.S., hopping on IM and conference calls as needed. We collaborate with web-based tools that, we’re guessing, look a lot like the ones these kids will be using.

But while home schooling advocates might disagree, we tend to believe nothing can replace the face-to-face, in-person learning experience. It helps kids not only in their education and learning how to work well with others, but in socializing — a key aspect of any high school experience.

For now, however, an online high school for queers might just be the best option.

At the very least, let’s hope that come June, there’s a giant gay prom. Even if it means a bunch of teens getting dressed to the nines in front of their webcams.