This article is sponsored by USD 259 Wichita Public Schools.
Remote learning. Virtual learning. Asynchronous. Synchronous. Microsoft Teams. Virtual fieldtrips.
These concepts were unfamiliar to most parents before the COVID-19 pandemic shook up the world of education in March 2020. Similarly, although Wichita Public Schools had a virtual school for many years prior to 2020, it was one of the more than 90 educational centers available to students in Wichita, and much of our community was unaware that it existed.
That quickly changed as the unknowns around learning and health in our community forced parents to consider choices they likely never would have otherwise. Our team worked to make more seats available to students who needed the flexible approach the Education Imagine Academy virtual program would be able to offer that the new MySchool Remote wouldn’t have.
As the year progressed, we learned more about our program and our students that will shape the future of the school as we plan for the next iterations of virtual learning.
- Some (often unexpected) students thrive in a non-traditional, virtual environment. Successful students in our program included those who learn better in small group settings and in a less traditional setting. Many students that learn at a different pace than in a traditional setting thrive in the virtual environment. Many students that receive special education services are thriving in our school setting because of the one-on-one interactions with their teachers and the flexibility of time spent learning. Because students can take breaks from studying and move through the content without any restrictions of time and space, many students have been more successful in virtual school than traditional school settings.
- All students benefit from community enrichment opportunities. The traditional classroom setting may not be ideal for some students, but all will benefit from the in-person opportunities to visit community institutions that support learning, including our many museums and zoos. Bringing back in-person attendance days for even virtual students allows us to enrich the learning experience.
- Working with peers builds future-ready skills. Research and experience have shown that project-based learning and real-world application experiences prepare students to have the workplace skills needed to be successful after high school. Building curriculum with these opportunities at the forefront will ensure our virtual academy students hone their talents in collaboration, problem solving, creative thinking, and more.
- Belonging matters. Even for students who are learning mostly independently, a sense of belonging to a community is important for people of all ages to thrive. We build this through opportunities like eSports teams, coding clubs, and the opportunity to participate in traditional sports through a student’s neighborhood school. Our weekly in-person learning sessions support this important need as well.
- Technology enhances, but does not replace, exceptional teaching. Our program has committed to ensuring digital access and equity for all interested students. Our inclusion in the Microsoft Showcase School program beginning in the 2021-22 school year will increase student and teacher exposure to innovative, technology-driven education approaches throughout the world! Knowing all students have the tools available, our highly qualified teaching staff can dedicate their time to working with students to enhance and build on the virtual learning resources they access during their flexible learning times.
- Some (often unexpected) students DO NOT thrive in this virtual environment. Students will need discipline to accomplish the expected learning outcomes with less structure than a traditional classroom. Having an engaged support system in the home will also help motivate students to succeed in the nontraditional environment.
We learned so much through the pandemic regarding virtual learning, and I am excited to implement new curriculum, weekly in-person opportunities for small group learning with teachers, experiential learning in collaboration with local zoos and museums, and synchronous (real-time learning with teachers and students) and asynchronous (self-paced learning through online curriculum) learning models. I couldn’t be more excited to see how our virtual school continues to evolve in the coming years.
If you have a student in your life who might benefit from this experience like my high-school daughter has, I invite you to reach out for more information by visiting our application website.
My team talks with every interested family before they complete the enrollment process to ensure the program is the best educational fit for your student(s).
Amanda taught high school Spanish for 13 years prior to joining the Education Imagine Academy team as Program Coordinator. She was a 2015 Kansas Teacher of the Year nominee and 2017 Master Teacher of the Year nominee. She has served on the Kansas Teacher of the Year Evaluation Committee for District IV, presents at local, state, national, and international education conferences on topics including Teacher Leadership, Technology Integration, and best practices. She teaches introductory courses for teacher education at Fort Hays State University, and in her spare time enjoys spending time with her three children.