The pandemic moved much learning online, and while some students found the virtual world difficult to navigate, others were thrilled to have an option that took them outside the walls of a classroom.
That lesson hit home with Andy Hall, the assistant principal and lead administrator for i-Grad Virtual Academy, a new program of the Cherokee School district that will launch when classes reconvene in a few weeks.
“We’ve realized there is more capability for online learning,” he said. “Some districts around us have established virtual academies, and we’re seeing that need, too. Not all students fit in the traditional mold of a high school.”
The idea for an online learning experience was being discussed before COVID-19 hit. But the shift to virtual classrooms during the last 15 months made administrators and faculty look at the concept under a microscope, Hall said.
“The decision to start this in the fall is not a reaction or response to the pandemic,” he said. “It will be a chance to offer a full curriculum in core areas required for graduation and a list of electives. In some cases, we’ll have things the traditional schools don’t: intro to health care, essentials of health care, a pharmacy course.”
Online courses will also include fine arts electives and world languages. Limited extracurriculars will also be available, based on students’ interests.
“Students can sign up for full course offerings, attend online for four years and graduate,” said Hall. “We cater to just about whatever a high school student will need.”
The school will also have a physical location in Canton. “That’s one thing I particularly like,” said Hall. “I’m interested in having kids come in and work with our staff if they need or want to. They can attend digital sessions, do one-on-one work or participate in science labs.”
The program is in the recruitment stage with a goal of having 200 students sign on. Hall believes i-Grad won’t have a mass appeal but will be an alternative for students who require flexible schedules.
“Gymnasts training for Olympics can flex their schedules and do both school and training,” he said. “The students who are going to be successful will be relatively independent and fairly digital savvy. They’re motivated to manage themselves to a certain extent; there won’t be that physical person prodding them to do this and do that. They need to know when and how to ask for assistance. That’s a big piece we’re working on as they go through the program.”
Hall is confident that the teachers he’s recruited to lead i-Grad are equipped to handle online learning challenges because of the preparation the pandemic provided.
“With the pandemic, almost all our teachers were thrown into the digital age,” he said. “Now they are stronger virtual teachers than they would have been. We’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. We know how to engage students and meet their needs.”
Now all that’s needed is a cohort of students ready to give it a try. His invitation: “Come be full time with us; i-Grad needs to be your home school.”
Information about i-Grad is online at cherokeek12.net.
SEND US YOUR STORIES. Each week we look at programs, projects and successful endeavors at area schools, from pre-K to grad school. To suggest a story, contact H.M. Cauley at email@example.com or 770-744-3042.
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Credit: Jason Getz/AJC