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Virtual Academy provides learning options

JACKSON – The timing turned out to be just right.

What started as a way to simply offer more educational choices to Northampton County families will also become another option for families concerned about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Northampton County’s K-12 Virtual Academy, unveiled in a press release last week, will be a full-time online learning option for students beginning in the 2020-21 school year.

“The process for Northampton’s Virtual Academy began in October of 2019,” explained Geneva Faulkner, the district’s Director of K-12 Curriculum & Instruction.

“A team of school and district level staff began brainstorming ways to regain students in our district whose families had chosen other options for various reasons,” she continued, noting those other options included homeschooling, charter schools, and private schools, some even across state lines.

When the pandemic hit earlier this year, Faulkner said the district’s focus had to shift to ensuring that basic student needs were met and staff were prepared to continue providing instruction remotely. The work to finalize the virtual academy still continued, albeit more slowly, while many families expressed worry about returning their children to a regular classroom setting.

A survey of district parents conducted in May uncovered the level of concern about returning to school amidst the pandemic.

“Of the respondents, over 50 percent of the parents said they were uncertain about returning their children to school due to concerns over COVID-19,” Faulkner reported.

So not only will the new virtual academy option provide a more flexible learning option for families, but will also provide some reassurance for any virus-related apprehension.

“Some spoke to their health concerns not only of their children, but others in their home, such as medically fragile siblings or parents,” she explained.

Faulkner also reported that some parents said their child worked better during remote learning and wanted them to continue to have that same success in the future.

This new online learning option will be conducted through the EdOptions Academy which will utilize the NC Standard Course of Study like regular classroom learning. Though online learning is different than a classroom setting, the students will still receive instruction from certified teachers, either from Northampton Schools or EdOptions.

“EdOptions is approved to support students who receive services through exceptional children’s programs as well as satisfies requirements for high school athletics with NCAA,” Faulkner acknowledged.

She also explained the Virtual Academy offers more flexibility for students to complete assignments at their own pace, but they will still have times where they must check-in for attendance and such.

Faulkner said one thing she liked in particular about the new virtual option is that students will still be enrolled in a school within the district and able to participate in extracurricular activities if they want. Not only will they be able to join academic clubs and athletic teams, but they’ll also be connected with their school principal, counselor, and other staff for support.

Enrollment in the Virtual Academy for this first school year will be capped at 50 students. Faulkner reported that they’d already received more than half of that number of applications in the first five days since it was made available.

As broadband internet access continues to expand, Faulkner said the district anticipates being able to expand the academy to encompass more students in the future.

“We want to move forward at a pace that we can help our students successfully navigate the virtual environment,” she concluded.

Two virtual interest sessions for families will be held at 12 noon and 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 2. For more information, visit the school district’s website at www.northampton.k12.nc.us or email curriculum@northampton.k12.nc.us