(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) With just three weeks left until school starts for the St. Joseph School District, students can expect a completely different learning experience, especially for a full 25% of them who have opted to learn online this school year.
“People in our society want more choice over their schedules or where or how their kids go to school and this is one of those ways we can continue to provide that choice,” said Dr. Marlie Williams, St. Joseph School District Assistant Superintendent.
1 in 4 students in St. Joseph will be attending school online this year.
2,700 students or about 25% of students in the district are enrolled in the teacher-created online platform- the virtual academy. District officials said initially, they may have underestimated the number of students choosing to learn digitally this fall.
“At the end of the day, I was surprised to see K-12, the number of parents who exercised the option for whatever reason. Whether it was COVID related or whether it was aligned to a schedule or a personal choice,” said Dr. Williams.
Before students first transitioned to online learning in the spring, the school district was slowly starting to offer more online courses. Dr. Williams said once the pandemic hit, the health crisis merely accelerated the process.
“Back in April, we said okay I think this needs to be a K-12 project, so that all of our students will have access to quality infrastructure if we are in a closure situation or if they’re in a medical condition that prevents them from returning,” said Dr. Williams.
Flash forward a few months later to the start of school and COVID-19 is still posing a health risk.
Buchanan County sits in the top 10 counties in the state with total number of cases, which may be leading families away from in-person learning and opting to learn from home.
District officials said the virtual academy is leaps and bounds ahead of last spring's online transition.
“I think our community has something here that they can be proud of. This is an option that’s not like the spring when we went to remote learning in the space of a couple of days. This is something that is thoughtful, that aligns with our curriculum, that includes new learning and new concepts that keeps our students moving forward,” said Dr. Williams.
The virtual academy might not be just an option this year, but something students can opt to do every year.
“Online education is something that’s been growing in popularity over the course of the last several years and I see that as something that stays with us,” said Dr. Williams.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, out of the 5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S., 339,000 cases are children. 10,000 of those confirmed cases have resulted in the last two weeks of July.