Virtual schools see continued growth beyond pandemic reasons

MOSINEE, Wisconsin (WSAW) – Virtual schools in north-central Wisconsin are reaching their enrollment caps and continue to grow steadily.

Although the continuing COVID-19 pandemic may be a reason for some families to enroll in virtual schools like Rural virtual academy, its administrator Charles Heckel said he had heard that last year’s experience opened the eyes of families to the stability and flexibility it can offer.

“Before the pandemic, we needed to educate parents more about what virtual learning was,” Heckel said. “But during the pandemic, really, most families had the opportunity to experience it. And regardless of the quality of education their children received primarily from their local school districts, many families have enjoyed the added benefits of being able to spend more time with their children.

RVA had to turn down around half of the students who registered as the pandemic hit hard.

“During the pandemic, we had over 3,000 students who wanted to enter the RVA, but due to our enrollment caps, we couldn’t take them all.”

The ceilings two years ago, for the 2019-2020 school year of RVA, the enrollment ceiling was set at 1,500 students. This year, it has risen to 1,800. On Wednesday, the governing council approved another increase to capping it at 2,100 for the 2022-2023 school year.

“We are hiring an average of 20 to 30 new employees each year with this growth. “

With a statewide shortage of teachers even before the pandemic, hiring could be difficult, but Heckel said remote working means they can pool applicants from across the state.

“We have an advantage because geography does not play a role. If we hire a teacher, they don’t have to move, you know, pick up and necessarily move.

RVA is technically part of the Medford School District, but it partners with 57 school districts as a virtual school option. About 49% of RVA students come from these partner districts, allowing students to play sports and do school activities within their home district. The remaining 51% enter school through the School’s Choice Program.

The intentionally virtual design of the school has shielded RVA and other virtual schools from some of the problems traditional schools across the state have been experiencing this school year. For example, they’re not affected by the current shortage of substitute teachers because Heckel said they rarely need to use them. Teachers can record their lessons if they have to go out for a doctor’s appointment or a full day and they don’t need to quarantine themselves for COVID because they are already separated from their students. The only time they hire substitute teachers is for long term needs like time off.

They also did not see the students’ gaps in education or socio-emotional development. Heckel said they actually saw academic results increase in the last year, and although they had to cancel some of their in-person student activities last year, those activities are back, providing plenty of opportunities to learn. face-to-face interaction between students and teachers.

Heckel noted that the enrollment cap, of course, limits their ability to accept students wishing to enter. So he advised those considering them or other virtual schools as an option to apply as soon as they know what they want to do after open enrollment begins in February.

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