During commencement season, one group of students is meeting each other for the first time.
They are high school students who have decided to enroll in the University of Miami’s Global Academy (UMGA), an online private high school that began in 2009.
“Once the students see each other face-to-face it takes about five minutes for that friendship to be rekindled,” said Craig Wilson, headmaster of UMGA and associate dean of the Division of Continuing and International Education
UMGA offers more than 135 specialized online college preparatory courses for its students. Honors and Advanced Placement courses are also available in the curriculum.
Students who enroll with UMGA have the option of taking individual courses or registering as a part-time or full-time student. Full-time students take six credits per year.
Though online classes would seem to pose a barrier between students and teachers, Wilson feels that UMGA is different.
“For UM, what sets us apart is our dedication to a very strong interaction between teachers and students,” he said. “At UMGA, we keep that tradition.”
UMGA classes are capped at 25 students, and between 250-275 students are enrolled per year.
The majority of the students originate from the U.S., but more international students are electing to enroll in UMGA because of the rising value of a diploma from the United States.
Each student has a personalized class schedule, making most of their student-teacher interactions occur through the online portal and social media.
“I find the biggest challenge is going out of our way to make sure students have a positive and strong interaction with each other and their teachers,” Wilson said.
UMGA teachers are Florida-certified and have been trained in online teaching.
Teachers are taught to tailor individual course material to benefit each student’s need. Students who learn at different paces are not at a disadvantage in the learning process.
Full-time students are also required to complete a community-based service-learning project. Other UMGA students are highly recommended to work on one.
The project gives students a chance to apply what they have learned in the classroom to real life and their community.
Undergraduate students at UM, like junior Max Sanchez, feel that the program is beneficial because it connects students to their communities.
“It’s important for students to diverge themselves in service,” he said. “Since others aren’t as fortunate, it’s important to give back to the local community.”
UMGA fosters social involvement among students with honors societies, a student newspaper, a science club, a Parent Teacher Committee and UMGAther, the school’s social media site.
The school has received accreditation from the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Florida Council of Independent Schools.
“What we’re doing now is a constant state of improvement,” Wilson said. “If it’s done right, we think online learning is here to stay.”