Story provided by Stillwater Public Schools
Prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic, Stillwater Public Schools was in the preliminary stages of developing a virtual learning academy for students. The district has continued to refine its plans for an ongoing virtual option throughout this school year and will launch the Stillwater Pioneer Virtual Academy this fall.
“Across the state we’ve seen an increase in students choosing virtual options throughout the last decade,” said Superintendent Marc Moore. “Because SPS has not had a true virtual program, Stillwater students have enrolled elsewhere for that option.” He says some students discover that virtual school works well for them, while others return to the district for in person instruction.
“One thing this pandemic has done is allow students to have a taste of online learning,” says District Technology Integration Specialist Joy Cawood, who has coordinated SPS’s Virtual Learning option this year. SPS responded to the pandemic with a “first draft” virtual program for families that were seeking a fully online alternative. Also, as COVID quickly spread throughout the community, the district provided distance lessons to students enrolled in face to face learning. “All of our students experienced quite a bit of online learning this year, and that can help them decide if Stillwater Pioneer Virtual Academy might be right for them,” says Cawood.
Over fifteen percent of the district’s students enrolled in the virtual offering for the 2020-2021 school year, but Cawood expects the district’s virtual enrollment to be much smaller going forward. “Virtual learning certainly isn’t for everyone, and I don’t imagine our numbers will ever approach where they are this year,” says Cawood, “but we were able to see firsthand how virtual learning can be the right fit for many students. Some students, and even some teachers, have thrived more in virtual learning than they did in person.”
Students seek virtual learning opportunities for a variety of reasons, including the ability to self pace, a desire to learn at home in a parent-controlled environment, the need for a flexible schedule, or challenges succeeding in the traditional classroom environment.
Cawood was named Interim Principal of Stillwater Pioneer Virtual Academy at an SPS School Board meeting on April 13 and will oversee the launch and continued development of the academy for the 2021-2022 school year. “I’m incredibly proud of what our teachers accomplished, but I’m also looking forward to next year as we begin building a more robust virtual program. We will expand support and options to ensure high levels of engagement and learning along with the quality student experience that we value at SPS.”
Stillwater Pioneer Virtual Academy will be an enhancement of the virtual learning the district has provided so far. One of the things Cawood says the district is most excited to offer is a physical learning lab for occasional in-person experiences, such as teacher or small group student meetings, hands-on science labs, and even student workspace if desired.
To facilitate online learning, SPS will use a multifaceted approach to content delivery. The majority of content will be delivered through Edgenuity, with Google Classroom, Seesaw, and other platforms being utilized as appropriate.
“This year we began the process of creating our own curriculum in certain courses and subject areas,” says Cawood. “We’re committed to continuing down that path and anticipate adding more SPS written courses beginning next year and throughout the coming years. During the interim period, we’re proud to partner with Edgenuity as a content provider and learning management system, knowing that they will continue to support our work, while SPS teachers add, remove, revise, or modify content as needed to better align with the goals and standards of SPS.” Students who complete their studies through the virtual academy will receive an SPS diploma.
Virtual academy students will also be eligible to participate in SPS extracurricular and co-curricular activities like performing arts classes, school dances, and athletics. “There are some things you just can’t do remotely,” says Moore. “Band, orchestra, theater, athletics—we want our virtual students to have as many opportunities to participate in SPS activities as possible. These and many more events, classes, and clubs are open to our academy kids.” Students will also have access to SPS libraries, meals, transportation, and other student services.
The district is making expectations and commitments clear to help Stillwater Pioneer Virtual Academy students succeed. Students will be required to attend an in-person or virtual orientation session and to commit to at least one full semester/term. To make sure they have chosen the right method of instruction and to keep their studies on track, students will be given a brief drop period (three school days for 10th-12th grade, and ten school days for PK-9th) at the beginning of each semester or term during which they can exit the academy and return to full-time, in-person learning.
If needed, internet devices and wireless hotspots can be provided by the district to participating students.
“At SPS we strive for excellence and we recognize that there are many ways to get there.” says Moore. “We’re excited to offer a virtual option to our students, and we’re committed to ensuring their success.”
Interested families can learn more at www.stillwaterschools.com/Schools/VirtualAcademy.