The Henry County school division explores options for students who excelled in a virtual learning environment.
COLLINSVILLE – Yes, there’s a directive out to get students back in the classroom by the middle of the month. But that doesn’t mean all students will board a bus in two weeks. That’s by design in Henry County.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a learning style that worked for some students – even though they’d never tried it before. A year ago, schools across the state switched to virtual learning. Rather than sitting in a classroom with all of their peers, students suddenly found themselves learning from home.
In Henry County, school division leaders realized the virtual option broadened learning opportunities. With some students excelling in the virtual environment, Henry County Public Schools decided to offer a Virtual Academy next school year.
“Many of our students have been very successful in the virtual learning environment and we have received feedback from both students and parents that they enjoy this option,” said Monica Hatchett, HCPS director of communications. “Because we want to support students in as many ways as possible, instituting an online-only option was an important step for us as we consider the importance of preparing students to both learn and work in a variety of scenarios in the future.”
The Requirements in Henry County
The school system will offer its Virtual Academy to secondary students who meet a couple of qualifications. First, they must be in good academic standing in the current virtual environment. Next, they need to apply with a parent or guardian’s support to continue learning virtually.
If the students meet those requirements, they may apply for a spot in the division’s Virtual Academy.
The benefits of a flexibly structured school environment further stretch a student’s learning potential.
“Students who are self-motivated learners have done especially well in the virtual format because they can work flexibly at their own pace,” Hatchett said. “This format has also been beneficial for students who work or who have special interests that may require them to be out of school periodically – traveling competitive athletic teams, for example.”
The change will impact more people than the students who sign up for the Virtual Academy. Some teachers will also expand their roles.
Though still in the works, the program will differ from the school division’s current hybrid plan. As students restart in-person learning this month, teachers will set up web cams for the students online. Meanwhile in-person instruction will occur for students physically in the school building in real-time.
The virtual option will include dedicated class blocks for the teacher to focus solely on online students throughout the day.
If the interest in the program continues to grow, a teacher could have a different type of school day altogether.
“Depending on registration numbers, it is possible for teachers to teach solely virtual students,” Hatchett said. “However, we expect that as the program is beginning it may be more likely that virtual classes are a portion of a teacher’s day.”
Wendy Durham, HCPS director of instruction, championed the teachers and their ability to adapt in ways that benefited the students.
“During the pandemic, teachers have found innovative ways to offer students a variety of learning opportunities virtually. Some students have responded well to the flexibility and innovation of virtual learning and would like to continue to learn in that manner and environment,” Durham said. “We are so pleased to be able to meet this need for our students who wish to continue to thrive in the virtual environment and look forward to the exciting lessons they will encounter.”
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Over the past year, many teachers learned right alongside with their students. Together, they navigated virtual learning. Like most new things, certain aspects worked well, while others required adjustments.
One of the components that HCPS will not integrate into the Virtual Academy is participation in an overtly traditional fashion.
“Because of internet availability and a variety of other needs, students this year participated in a variety of learning methods – picking up paper packets, working in real time with teachers and working independently with recordings,” Hatchett said. “The Virtual Academy will focus more on the latter, rather than paper packets and other traditional learning methods.”
The school division looks forward to implementing other aspects that they learned worked well throughout the pandemic.
“The flexibility of live streaming classes versus watching recordings later has been critical for our students during the pandemic given that many do not have internet access at home,” Hatchett said. “Streamlining the offerings and dynamic course material available to students within our learning platform – Canvas – has been a process embraced by teachers and they have done some really innovative things, which will certainly be cornerstones for the Virtual Academy learners moving forward.”
Henry County Students Sign Up
While the particulars are still in the works, sign up is live for the HCPS Virtual Academy.
“We are currently registering students for the upcoming school year,” Hatchett said. “A student who is interested in participating in Virtual Academy, as well as families who are interested in learning more, should contact the school counselor at his [or] her school this week.”
Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]