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ACPS reviewing first semester of virtual option

Principal of the Albemarle Virtual School
Principal of the Albemarle Virtual School(wvir)
Published: Dec. 7, 2021 at 5:54 PM EST
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ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - Albemarle County Public Schools is wrapping up the first semester of its entirely virtual school option.

Simply named the “Virtual School,” it’s the only entirely online K-through-12 option in the county. It has more than 360 students, but even more want to be in it.

“I think it was an exciting opportunity to sort of look at how can we change education,” Principal Reed Gillespie said. “We had, as we said, this series of students that thrived in it last year. So, how can we take that, from what we learned from last year?”

Teachers and staff at this virtual school learned how helpful the breakout rooms on Zoom are for socialization, especially for younger students who didn’t get to use them last year.

“They can talk to their friends and they can play games,” Gillespie said. “So the students have really surprised us just with their technology skills, and also with just the ability for them to form relationships that are meaningful.”

Those with the school say some students chose this option because of its potential to help kids with anxiety and social struggles. But, they also say there are other reasons: “Obviously, the big one is covid,” Gillespie said. “Just in terms of everything, from some students not feeling comfortable wearing masks to, obviously, just scared of the virus.”

This fear then impacts the length of the waitlist of kids who want to be in this virtual option. Gillespie says it gets longer when the spread of the virus spikes in the area.

“There was definitely a correlation between that and the number of families that we would then add,” Gillespie said. “With the most recent variant, there were families that have expressed an interest at transitioning back. And there’s been several that have said, ‘you know, with the recent variant, I’m not comfortable sending my child back to school.’”

Gillespie says they had to add another 100 students over the summer.

“We hired additional staff, the county was flexible in terms of funding some of those things,” Gillespie said. “But that put our classrooms at capacity or above capacity. So to ensure that all of our students that we currently have, our needs are being met, we created a waitlist.”

Despite the high demand and success so far, ACPS is only planning on continuing this option for high school next year. It says these students have better technology skills, including the ability to focus and keep their camera on.

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