(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) The St. Joseph School District's Virtual Academy returns this year with decreased enrollment.
Monday, the SJSD will welcome 700 students into the second year of its Virtual Academy. Enrollment for the 2021-22 online school year dropped about 50% from last semester which had 1,500 students.
There was no available data for the number of returning versus first-time students to the online learning platform.
Dr. Marlie Williams, Assistant Superintendent for Academic Services for SJSD, said they're logging into this hoping to have cracked the code and fixed the bugs from last year, the launch of the Virtual Academy.
“I do think we learned a lot which will help us as we move forward and kinda grow in those places where we did realize those gaps,” said Dr. Williams.
One of those growing pains better understood this time around is online students need strong, stable support systems at home in order to succeed in the virtual setting.
“Some families had already thought through the support systems that they would need to wrap around their students and what they would need to provide in terms of academics. Some families struggled with providing those supports in terms of time and monitoring and helping with technology,” said Dr. Williams.
A change to the Virtual Academy this year will be more face-to-face opportunities from enrolled students.
In-person activities were limited for online students last year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the district is looking to ramp up those face-to-face interactions and give children a chance to get to know their class while engaging in STEAM activities and interest clubs.
“I really do think that will be the additional layer that will make learning more meaningful for kids who need more than just interaction through a computer screen,” said Dr. Williams.
Administrators said the SJSD's Virtual Academy gained it's MoCAP certification this summer which put the program in the statewide catalog and allowed students from across the state to enroll. Dr. Williams said some students from different parts of the state have already enrolled.
As for teachers, 40 will return to the Virtual Academy this year opposed to the 100 teachers last year.
While teachers prep for their new students, Dr. Williams said they're excited to start the school year with lessons learned and a sense of optimism.
“There’s been a lot of talk about how pleased everyone was to be back together just because of how much everyone learned and ready to press the restart button and apply all of that learning in a new year,” said Dr. Williams.
Parents have until August 27th to enroll their students for the Virtual Academy.