‘Virtual Academy’ option offered to students

BY HANNAH MCCLELLAN, News + Record Staff
Posted 7/31/20

Following the Chatham County Board of Education’s July 16 decision to start the first four weeks of the 2020-21 school year school under Gov. Roy Cooper’s fully-remote “Plan C” option, the …

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‘Virtual Academy’ option offered to students

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Following the Chatham County Board of Education’s July 16 decision to start the first four weeks of the 2020-21 school year school under Gov. Roy Cooper’s fully-remote “Plan C” option, the district followed up this week by announcing details regarding its Virtual Academy.

Meant as an option for students and families who prefer 100% remote instruction for the upcoming school year, the Chatham County Schools Virtual Academy (CCSVA) is now open for applications with a priority deadline of Aug. 3.

There is no cost to enroll in the academy, but it does require applicants to commit through the end of the first semester, which ends Jan. 15, “unless there are unique and compelling circumstances.”

“This option is designed for those who are concerned about sending students back to a school building environment during COVID-19,” the district said in the language included on the Google Docs application for virtual academy.

The application form specifies CCSVA will use curriculum from Edmentum, a provider of online and specialized learning programs, in all grades with a licensed educator, and that enrolled high school students will “also be served through North Carolina Virtual Public Schools, Central Carolina Community College and other course offerings as appropriate.”

All CCSVA students will be required to take state-required tests.

While the application states a separate form should be completed for each student, a FAQ page provided by the district says there is currently no limit on the number of students who can enroll in CCSVA, though start dates could be delayed for students with applications sent after the Aug. 3 deadline.

The document lists the following things as necessary “for students to be successful in CCSVA classes” — dependable internet access, regular use of email by parents and students, an electronic device, a quiet space, strong home support and the setting aside of time five days a week “to keep pace with the assignments.”

CCS will work with students to provide loaner Chromebook devices and mobile hotspots “as available,” the application says, but also states that “a fully virtual program works best with connectivity.”

The district also states in the FAQ document that the CCSVA curriculum “may not be appropriate for all students,” including students in the Exceptional Children’s Program or those with learning-related disabilies that might prevent them from accessing the virtual academy.

“The CCSVA program requires that students be able to make progress through the general education curriculum, engage in remote instruction, and practice skills independently at home,” the document says. However, it goes on to add: “Students in the CCSVA program may receive their related services through their base school according to individualized plans created by their IEP teams.”

Along with CCS’s at-home learning, CCSVA will start Aug. 17. A virtual academy has been in place at Chatham Central High School the last three years. John McCann, CCS public relations coordinator, said the school system is working hard to get everything in place for the virtual academy and upcoming school year. The district’s website will continue to be updated with information, McCann said.

“The fluidity of all things related to the upcoming school year is hard to put into words. Things are moving fast,” he said. “But we have individuals in our school system with a whole lot of experience. They have the expertise to get their arms around all of the moving parts and put it all together. August 17 is the first day of school. That’s our target. We’ll hit it.”

For more information on Chatham’s virtual academy, visit the district’s working document regarding the fully-remote option: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1JN_YhGIjTq6fiehV3Xutfjuonbb7hEQWRmxm5ahVWWw/edit#heading=h.2pl242a6ivo6

Virtual Academy FAQ:

How much does CCSVA cost?

The program is free for any K-12 student eligible to enroll in a Chatham County School. There is not currently a limit on the number of students who will be accepted to CCSVA.

When is the deadline to apply?

The preferred due date for applications is Aug. 3, so the district can enroll and register all students. Applications received after this date could result in a delayed start date for the student.

How will work be graded, and grades communicated?

Grading will follow CCS’ accepted grading practices followed by all its schools, though a variety of acceptable work submissions are outlined in the CCS Remote Learning Plan. Teachers will send periodic progress reports to virtual academy students and post grades to PowerSchool weekly.

Will students take standardized test?

Yes. CCSVA students will be required to take all state-required tests. Any necessary transportation to test sites will be provided.

How many classes per semester?

High school students need to be enrolled in four classes per semester while K-8 students will enroll in grade-level core course offerings for english, math, science and social studies.

Will online courses require specific times to log in?

Though this depends on an individual teacher’s preference, for the most part, students are allowed to log in at their convenience and class meetings that do take place will be recorded for future access.

What support is available?

Virtual Academy plans to use resources like Zoom and Google Meet to provide student support. Counseling services will also be available.

What about tech support?

CCS students can be loaned a Chromebook through their home school and the district is hoping to provide hot spots for students in need, though these will only help in areas with reliable cell service. Students and parents can also reach out to the Tech Support Line regarding CCS technology resources Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 919-642-5613.

Can my student take dual language, AP or honors courses?

At this time, dual language courses are not offered in CCSVA. AP and honors courses that meet graduation requirements will be offered, with limited elective offerings.

How long will students be doing work?

The district outlines that Kindergarten though 5th grade students should spend 15 to 20 minutes per class, per day, outside of their daily class meetings. Students in 6th through 8th grade should spend 20 to 30 minutes per class, per day, as well as the time required for “daily direct” instruction, which has a minimum of three class meetings per week for each class. Ninth through 12th grade students should work 30 minutes per class, per day, with the same daily direct instrucment requirements for 6th through 8th grade.

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com.

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