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Changes for D21 virtual academy

The increasingly popular North Wasco Virtual Academy, District 21’s online school, has some user-friendly changes coming in the fall, and is hosting an open house Wednesday to talk about them.

The open house is from 6-7 p.m. Wednesday, April 15, at the Riverenza, 410 E. 10th St. in The Dalles.

The virtual academy, which is open to grades K-12, offers fully online curriculum, including AP and honors classes, and also offers dual enrollment for students taking both online and school-based classes.

Starting in the fall, two big changes are in store for parents who choose a hybrid model of receiving both in-person and online instruction for their children.

First, parents will only be coaching their children in two subjects — math and language arts — instead of five, and the current optional weekly face-to-face meeting with the virtual academy’s K-8 teacher will become mandatory and broken out by grade levels to make for a more productive experience, said Virtual Academy Administrator Lynden Evans.

Currently, parents in the program are responsible for coaching their students in all subjects.

“The parents were letting us know they were pretty overwhelmed with how much they had to teach and how fast they had to go because the curriculum is very rigorous and demands a lot,” Evans said.“We are now going to be teaching the social studies and the science and the art component and the parents will only have to do language arts and math. I think that move right there will alleviate a lot of pressure on the parents,” Evans said.

Also with the new format starting in the fall, a currently mandatory open gym and elective time will become optional.

“It’s good, but it’s also problematic,” Evans said of the currently optional instructional time. “We’ve realized that what we need to make optional is the open gym and the elective time.

“If it’s going to be teacher-directed, we can’t make it an optional thing. We really think it’s valuable to have that face to face interaction with teachers.”

How weekly instruction time is set up now, “you never know who’s going to come and you never know what their challenges are, so with that we realized our structure had some flaws to it. That’s what pushed us to this new model, which has a little more structure to it,” Evans said.

The new format, based on a successful program in Vancouver called Evergreen Flex Academy, will assign students, based on grade, a time to come to the Wahtonka Campus for in-person instruction.

One day a week, either Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, students will come to school from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

This in-person flex program will only have 48 slots, which will require a lottery for admittance. Each blended group be able to interact with each other and have live instruction from the teacher, Evans said.

The school, now in its third year, has seen ballooning enrollment. It started with 46 students and has 220 now. Of those, 73 are full-time online students.

Students can also opt for an online-only option with no requirement to come into the Wahtonka Campus.

The online-only courses also have live instruction, but it is done over the computer, via skype or similar methods.

All the teachers instructing the online courses are teachers licensed in Oregon for high school, though they could be based anywhere, Evans said.

The school’s in-house teacher, Leanne Neal, supports families by providing face-to-face instruction as needed. “We find that’s really effective in keeping kids motivated and interested,” Evans said.

By having a virtual online academy locally, it captures those students, and the state funding dollars they bring, in the local school system, instead of having them use online academies elsewhere in the state, Evans said.


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