St. Joseph School District unveils virtual academy for 2020-2021 school year

The deadline for St. Joseph students to enroll for the 2020-2021 school year is July 31 in either the virtual academy or in-person classes. When the semester is underway, students won't be able to switch to the other option until the end of the semester.

Posted: Jul 23, 2020 10:33 AM

(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) The deadline for St. Joseph Public School students to enroll for the 2020-2021 school year is July 31 in either the virtual academy or in-person classes. After the first week, when the semester is fully underway, students won't be able to switch to the other option until the end of the semester.

With such a difficult decision looming, here's an in-depth look at the online option.

Students in St. Joseph public schools have a choice this fall; traditional face-to-face classroom learning or 100-percent virtual platform.

"When we reflected on the experience that our students were having back in March, April and May, we knew that there were things that we could do better,” St. Joseph School District Assistant Superintendent of Academics Marlie Williams said.

School officials say it may have been born out of necessity but it's more than just a back-up plan.

“We've put a lot of sweat and tears into this so we are hoping that families know that we have their best interest at the forefront here and we are going to produce the best educational product that we can,” St. Joseph teacher Heather Wiedmer said.

The virtual academy is an actual choice for all students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

“We have, I would say, 75 to 80 fantastic teachers who are what I would consider visionaries,” Williams said.

Designed by St. Joseph teachers, for St. Joseph students.

“They have the passion, the vision, the energy for what is the next for education and general but really how can we better serve our students here in St. Joseph and that's what has gone into all of this work,” Williams said.

The teachers who helped build it say the online classes are on-par with what you would get in a classroom.

“Their kids will progress as if they are in the same time as the classroom and they can do it in the safety of their own home if they are concerned,” St. Joseph teacher Melissa Schultz said.

They've tried to address all of the remote learning problems that popped up in the spring when schools closed down. This time around things are streamlined.

“We also wanted all of the kids to be able to get the same kind of education, it wasn’t a picking and choosing based on each individual teacher,” Schultz said.

Parents have to learn one platform not 12. All online courses for all grades are run through Canvas and parents can actually access the lessons too.

“Sometimes they had packets that they had to do and they weren't exactly sure how to explain it but this time they will get to see a real, live teacher explaining it to their kids so they'll get to learn it as well,” Schultz said.

Pre-recorded lessons are supported by online collaborative projects with students.

“We've spent a lot of time in front of the cameras delivering those lessons and getting those put into the Canvas platform so that students will have access to a real, live teacher but at home,” Wiedmer said.

The length of lessons specific to grade levels and screen time limited for all students.

“We want them moving away from a computer screen and being creative and active and thinking so there may be practice things outside of the computer that are included in the assignment so it’s not all just sitting and looking at a computer and doing lessons online all day,” Williams said.

To deal with the haves and have nots, the district has bought a device for each and every student with federal funds and hotspots for those who need it.

“This is something that levels the playing field so that if our families have made the base education is the best for their students coming into the fall, they have access to that quality online education that we've built,” Williams said.

School officials say that this won't solve every problem with remote learning.

“It has been an intense and massive project but I think it is one that is definitely worthwhile,” Williams said.

Teachers also said that the online platform is not for everyone and there are some benefits that can’t replace face-to-face.

For additional information on the virtual academy, CLICK HERE.

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