DIXFIELD – Rebecca Risner will blaze the way for other Dirigo High School students when she starts taking a Virtual High School course in the fall.

The Canton junior will be among 50 high school students from the six-district Western Maine Education Cooperative who have signed on to the Massachusetts-based Virtual High School. She will take a history of photography course, and some of her virtual classmates could come from 400 high schools from around the United States and the world.

At Dirigo, three students have signed up for an online, Virtual High School course during one of the semesters during school year 2009-10. Risner’s begins in the fall. High school classmates, Mary Malchisky and Cassie Moretto, are enrolled in the VHS criminology course set to start in the spring, 2010 semester.

Students enrolled in such classes can do them at school or at home on computers.

Norm Greenberg, coordinator of the Dirigo program and learning center instructor, is making a schoolwide presentation Tuesday, May 19, to introduce other students to the variety of online courses and early college courses available to them. Information about the various non-traditional programs have also gone home to parents.

The Virtual High School program isn’t the only non-traditional program in which Dirigo students participate. About 15 this year are taking some kind of non-traditional high school or college course through the University of Maine System, Central Maine Community College’s satellite classes at the Region 9 School of Applied Technology, or by some other means.

Virtually all classes are free. Those costs that aren’t, are often paid by the district. Some classes provide high school credit only, college-credit only, or both. Risner’s is a high school elective course.

Greenberg said the number of students who take non-traditional courses has grown, from just three in school year 2006-07 to 15 this school year. More are expected to enroll during school year 2009-10.

“Students can start accumulating college credit before ending high school. It’s free to students,” he said.

For Risner, the history of photography course is just perfect. She wants to be a traveling photographer, such as for National Geographic, and has had a interest and talent for photography since she was a little girl.

She has already taken Dirigo’s photography class and is signed up to take a photo journalism class at her school in the fall.

Originally from Washington state, she hopes to enroll in the Art Institute of Seattle, or a similar West Coast school, after graduation from Dirigo.

“I don’t know much about the history of photography. I want to know how it originated and what I can do to improve it,” she said of her selection of the Virtual High School course.

Other schools in the area that have a limited number of slots for Virtual High School classes are Mountain Valley in Rumford, Buckfield High School, Winthrop High School, Mt. Blue High School in Farmington and Rangeley High School.

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