New Hanover County Schools explains difference between ‘Virtual Academy’ and ‘Virtual School'

Updated: Jul. 24, 2020 at 6:44 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - New Hanover County Schools is working to clarify the difference between two digital learning options on the horizon for local students.

Tuesday, the school district will discuss changes to their plans for school this fall. According to an agenda briefing, interim superintendent Dr. Del Burns is recommending the district move to being completely online during the first grading period.

Earlier this month, the school system announced they would allow parents to decide whether they want their children to return to the classroom on an alternating three-week schedule, or elect to attend school online.

No matter the board’s decision, digital learning is on the minds of many this fall.

The FAQs posted on the district’s website have prompted questions from parents about what options they have for their children and what learning will look like in a few short weeks. In many cases, the district has had to draw a clear line between the discussion about “virtual academy” and “virtual school.”

According to New Hanover County Schools, at this time, parents only have the option to send their kids to school in person every three weeks or elect to enroll in virtual academy.

Virtual academy will be run through each individual school and kids enrolled in that option will learn from teachers at the school where they would normally attend.

The application for virtual academy is expected to be released in the coming days.

The FAQs posted on the district’s website note that the majority of the work for the virtual academy will allow kids to work at their own pace. Students will be assigned a teacher, most likely a staff member from their own school. There might be a few live lessons sprinkled in, but most assignments will be flexible and students will be able to complete them anytime, anywhere.

Honors and AP courses will be offered in the academy and leaders are brainstorming ways now to offer courses like band and choir.

Attendance will be tracked by how often students log on and whether students are completing their work on time.

As far as resources go, students will have the option to check out a device if they need it and families without the internet will be provided a WiFi hotspot by the school district.

District leaders do admit virtual academy will inevitably leave parents with more responsibilities. Furthermore, students in elementary school must have a “learning coach” or a parent who can commit three to six hours a day to their child’s education.

On the other hand, virtual school is a completely different program from the virtual academy. It’s also not an option for students right now; virtual school won’t be launched for another six months to a year, according to New Hanover County Schools.

Virtual school is actually its own entity and when it’s up and running next year, it will have its own name, school colors, mascot, and its own principal. Because the school has not been named, leaders are simply referring to the entity as “Virtual School.”

The rationale behind the virtual school is to give parents an option next year if they find online learning is better for their kids.

The school board has ordered the school district staff to begin drafting an application to get the virtual school off the ground next year. When that application is done, it will have to be approved by the New Hanover County School Board before it is sent to the State Board of Education.

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