(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) The COVID-19 pandemic has made this school year unlike any other.
Nearly two months into the school year, Virtual Academy teachers in the St. Joseph School District said they're getting a hang of teaching behind a screen, but it hasn't been without struggle.
“This is my 17th year of teaching and the Virtual Academy asked me to step out of my comfort zone,” said Erin Wilkinson, 1st grade Virtual Academy teacher.
Walking into the Virtual Academy located in the Noyes Elementary School, there's a constant buzz of teachers engaging with their students remotely.
Rather than teaching in front of a classroom, Virtual Academy teachers are sitting in front of a computer screen next to five or six other teachers teaching their own class.
“It’s totally different because I get to see what they’re doing instead of just being in my own classroom doing my thing,” said Wilkinson.
Wilkinson said initially she was concerned the physical barrier between her and her students was going to have a negative affect on her connections with her kids, but she said it hasn't been a problem at all.
“I feel like even though they are not in front of me, I’ve still developed that connection,” said Wilkinson.
Ashly, a second grader enrolled in the Virtual Academy said she's having fun learning online and staying home with her Grandma Nancy, but she said it's not always easy.
“I do like it. It’s kinda hard though. I’m missing my classroom, I’m missing my teacher Mrs. Rich,” said Ashly, 2nd grader enrolled in the Virtual Academy.
The SJSD's Virtual Academy has been a hot button issue in the district and they teachers have felt it.
“I think that we have had a lot of negativity towards us,” said Courtney Burgess, 3rd grade teacher for the Virtual Academy.
Some concerned community members have voiced worry that online learning isn't the best method for students, but teachers at the Virtual Academy said their students are learning just fine.
“I truly believe that if you are putting forth the effort, then yes you are learning,” said Burgess, "As long as they have somebody at home cause we have third graders. They’re not high schoolers, they don’t necessarily know how to do this on their own.”
Nancy Martinez, Ashly's grandma, helps Ashly with her online class load.
“I believe she’s learning quite a bit,” said Nancy Martinez.
While there's still a long way to go, teachers logging in to see their students said with life being as uncertain as it is right now, they're doing their best to give kids in the St. Joseph School District a top tier education in the most unconventional way possible.
“Through the camera we just want to make sure that they feel safe and at home through the camera as well, just like they would in our classrooms,” said Burgess.
Roughly 25% of students in the district are enrolled in the teacher-created online platform.
For more information on the Virtual Academy, click here.