By Katie Fallon

Studious teenagers have long taken advanced placement courses in preparation for college, but a group of local students already made the jump to college while still enjoying their last year at North Springs High School.

The three Sandy Springs students participated in a distance learning program this past school year in which they videoconferenced with a calculus class at Georgia Tech. The course was taught on the Tech campus by Dr. Tom Morley and monitored at North Springs by the school’s media specialist, Linda Wahlig.

The unique learning opportunity has drawn praise from all involved.

North Springs Principal Vicky Ferguson said the opportunity for a select group of students to excel beyond the school’s available curriculum lets the teenagers remain teenagers while also getting taste of what their college years will be like.

“It’s like being in the class,” Ferguson said. “That has been really exciting. One of the great things is the students don’t have to leave the campus.”

North Springs seniors Madison Fitzpatrick, 17, Daniel Switts, 18, and Greg Freedman, 18, not only enrolled in the program, taking Calculus II and Calculus III during each semester of the just-completed school year, they also each received As in the class both semesters.

North Springs was one of five pilot schools to begin the program in fall of 2005. It was joined by Alpharetta, Centennial, Chattahoochee and Roswell high schools. The program was designed for schools that have a handful of students who have exhausted their high school’s math course offerings. Through live, two-way videoconferencing technology, the program began with more than 30 high school seniors, juniors and even some sophomores.

Fitzpatrick, who will be attending Northwestern University in the fall after working in a physical chemistry lab at Georgia Tech during the summer, said she enjoyed the independent nature of the class.

“It’s much more self-motivating in that we have to direct our own learning,” Fitzpatrick said.”

The students like Fitzpatrick, Switts and Freedman who took the class got that true experience of a college course without actually walking the Georgia Tech campus. Just like Tech students, the teenagers “attended” the class taught by Morley every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8 to 8:55 a.m. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the class includes a smaller, recitation period run by a teaching assistant.

Switts, who will become a full time Georgia Tech student in the fall, said he too liked the responsibility that comes with enrolling in the distance learning class.

“It’s a little bit more decentralized,” Switts said. “I’ve always been a self-motivated learner.”

Students who take the course have already taken Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus and successfully navigated the college credit exam for Calculus I. To be admitted to the distance learning class with Georgia Tech, high school students’ math grade point average, SAT scores and AP Calculus exam scores must be reviewed by the college’s Admissions office.

The costs for the class are provided by the HOPE Scholarship program, which covers the tuition costs to Georgia tech, and the Fulton school district, which provides the videoconferencing equipment for participating schools.

Attendance during the distance learning was quite good according to Fitzpatrick. She said even if she or one of her two classmates had to miss a session, they could always review the day’s lesson from an online video archive.

Wahlig, herself a Georgia Tech graduate, is in charge of making sure the videoconferencing technology runs smoothly as well as administering the North Springs students’ tests. She said in addition to her attentive students, she too retained a fact or two from the calculus curriculum.

Media specialist for the last five years, Wahlig said her students have been quite successful in their calculus endeavors. “I think it’s great,” she said. “All my kids have taken [the class], passed it and most have exempted the final.”

Wahlig said there were few technological mishaps throughout the course of the class. The clever delivery of the material, she said, has worked very well.

Ferguson said she hoped North Springs will be able to expand its distance learning opportunities to make other subjects available for the school’s advanced students.

All three of the distance learning students took a full load of AP classes in addition to Tech’s calculus class. Those courses included AP physics, biology, literature, European history and psychology.