Park County School District 1 joined the digital movement last fall with the first semester of the Park #1 Virtual Academy. The virtual academy covers the entire Big Horn Basin, though most students …
Park County School District 1 joined the digital movement last fall with the first semester of the Park #1 Virtual Academy. The virtual academy covers the entire Big Horn Basin, though most students are from Powell or Cody, according to school counselor DeAnne Jensen.
The school was created with the goal of providing an alternative form of schooling for K-12 students who are not able to attend school in person for a variety of reasons. Students may decide to enroll because of factors such as recurring health issues, mental health issues or unique schedules.
“It [the virtual school] serves a lot of different needs,” Jensen said. “But I think especially with health, that’s a big one, that they’re able to stay in school and not have the same attendance requirements. That gives them flexibility.”
Rather than implementing a strict schedule, the virtual school requires that middle school and high school students spend two hours a week on each course; elementary students must spend a total of four hours a week on coursework. However, the virtual academy must still follow district requirements for curriculum.
There are four teachers at the virtual school, each covering a different subject. Andrew Borcher teaches elementary students, Leon Miller teaches science, JoEllen Varian teaches English and Hanson Jordan teaches math.
In addition to the four virtual teachers, “teachers of record” are used. These teachers are sourced from within the district to teach classes that fall outside of elementary education, science, math and English.
These “teachers of record” are: Ashley Hildebrand (social studies), Shelley Heny (physical education), Mike Heny (business), Jo Mitchell (music), Luke Robertson (physical education), Hans Hawley (social studies), Tracy McArthur (social studies and AP English), Nicole Mair-Reitz (Spanish), Kandi Bennett (career technical education) and Necole Hanks (computer science).
Park #1 Virtual Academy uses Acellus, an online learning program that allows students to move at their own pace.
Teachers are able to check the progress and attendance of their students using the program. Acellus gives students the ability to learn at their own pace by reassigning content they’re struggling with, or breaking content down further. Teachers will also be alerted if students need extra help learning the content.
The virtual school has just finished its first term and is continuing to work out new ways to serve students, particularly their social needs.
“We’re still figuring out a culture. I’m not quite sure where we fit in the district yet, and that’s evolving,” science teacher Leon Miller said. “I think that as that progresses, we’ll kind of know more; we’re trying to include group activities where everyone meets in our district.”
The teachers have been experimenting with optional Kahoots that include all students in the virtual academy.
The virtual school, which started planning last spring and launched in the fall, is continuing to learn and take shape, according to Principal Steve Lensegrav.
“There’s a lot of parts and pieces that had to be put in place,” Lensegrav said. “It’s kind of the same as building the airplane while it’s flying, and just trying to figure out how to assemble the wings and everything else like that as we are moving. Fortunately, we were super lucky to be able to find the staff that we did.”
Currently, the virtual academy is looking to use different software alongside Acellus, in order to offer more personalized teaching to students.
“We want our hands more into the curriculum,” Miller said. “We wanted to change it to meet our students’ needs based on the student, and Acellus doesn’t really allow us to do that very much. So we’re looking at other platforms that will help us subsidize Acellus.”
One of the options is Canvas, a learning management system already used in some of the programs.
“Each teacher is looking at different stuff based on their curriculum, and so that’s probably gonna evolve over the next few years, and we’re gonna have more of a personal feel in our curriculum and what’s offered,” Miller said.
Enrollment is open right now, with approximately 30 students currently enrolled.