Students take advantage of Potomac’s affiliation with the Global Online Academy to broaden their learning

Ali O'Brien, Features Editor

This fall, an unprecedented number of Potomac upper schoolers enrolled in the Global Online Academy (GOA), a nonprofit organization serving its many member schools to reimagine “learning to empower students and educators to thrive in a globally networked society.” They offer an academic program that allows students to take virtual courses alongside classmates from leading independent schools around the world. GOA classes, which are taught fully online, were introduced in Potomac’s Upper School in the fall of 2019. This year, with virtual learning as a new staple of education, GOA enrollment at Potomac nearly tripled, with sixteen students taking a variety of classes across different subjects. 

GOA provides students with unique opportunities to take courses not offered at Potomac and engage with diverse peers. 

Senior Zhané Moledina, who took GOA’s Race and Society class said that “I like that I’m able to talk to people from all over the world. I think that’s a unique aspect of GOA, especially in a class like Race and Society, because it allows us to focus not just on the United States, but also on the experiences of classmates living in Japan and South Africa.”   

Senior Grace Sumner, who took a GOA psychology course last semester, echoed Zhané’s sentiment. “In a world that is otherwise really disconnected right now, I’m able to connect with people across the globe through GOA.” 

The addition of GOA courses to Potomac’s curriculum was at first the subject of some skepticism. Ms. Tory Virchow, Upper School Director of Curriculum and Academics, said  “Mr. Kowalik, like he was predicting the future, had wanted us to explore online class options for a while. I pushed back really hard because I said that doesn’t feel like a community opportunity,”  Ms. Virchow who serves as the liaison between GOA and Potomac, notes “We are relationship-based, we are community-based and a student sitting in a 300 person virtual classroom didn’t make sense to me.”

While GOA offers a robust course catalog, Potomac limited students to taking GOA classes that Potomac does not offer. This school year, mainly Potomac seniors and second-semester juniors will be taking GOA classes. Administrators, however, are looking towards expanding GOA opportunities and offering them at other grade levels. 

“Really interestingly, what GOA says is that sophomores are actually the best group for GOA because they are interested in trying out new things and exploring stuff, and they don’t necessarily have the fullest course load and they really are invested,” Mrs. Virchow said. 

Potomac’s shift to include more GOA classes within the curriculum marks a series of larger changes in education delivery caused by the pandemic—specifically, a shift towards competency-based learning.
Ms. Juna McDaid, Potomac’s Assistant Head for Academics said that “It was a really heavy lift for schools to make the shift to what current researchers are saying is better for students, but when we moved online we discovered that the practices that are really good in a virtual setting could actually translate really well to the in-person setting.”

“I’m really hopeful for the future because the pandemic has revealed to us that we can make pivots faster than we thought we could in the past. Instead of waiting a year and a half to implement something that’s really going to benefit students, we can do it over the summer,” she continued.

While decisions regarding the future of virtual learning remain in question, Ms. McDaid is optimistic about its role in Potomac’s future.

“We as faculty, staff, and administration will continue to have conversations about what we keep and what do we let go of from our pre-pandemic days, and that merger could actually make a really vibrant learning environment.”

With Potomac’s plans to expand online academy course offerings in the coming years, as well as students’ increased comfort with virtual learning since the pandemic, it’s safe to assume that GOA classes will continue to gain popularity in the Upper School.