Watauga County Schools has opened applications for the K-8 Watauga Virtual Academy — the school system’s dedicated online school that will open next year. The virtual academy is set to offer full time online enrollment to students in grades K-8 and will give Watauga parents a new level of flexibility in their children’s public education.
Remote learning in Watauga County Schools isn’t an entirely new concept. Like so many things that changed at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was first implemented in schools as a solution to statewide mandates that closed in-person instruction.
But while online school has some of its roots in the remote learning of the past year, the Watauga Virtual Academy’s Director, Tamara Stamey, stressed that the WVA will be an entirely new experience for families.
“The WVA will be a school unto itself, and students will not be cross enrolled to a brick and mortar school,” Stamey said. “This means we will have a more direct relationship with the students and families in the WVA — I believe it will streamline our communication as well. The virtual academy will be a school just like the ones housed in any of our physical buildings that follows the yearly calendar and provides direct instruction to students.”
Stamey said the school district and its teachers had learned a great deal from the struggles and successes of remote learning over the past year. She said that experience would give the new virtual academy a boost from its inception.
“We know going into this year that we will be able to design a schedule and stick to it — we won’t be trying to match schedule changes that occur in the face-to-face classrooms,” Stamey said. “We recognize that parents needed more support in their role at home during remote learning, and we will be providing that support in a more intentional way, starting with more frequent and focused communication.”
Part of that improved continuity and communication will be made possible by staff dedicated solely to the WVA’s students. Stamey said the virtual academy will be fully-manned by full-time teachers and staff who have excelled in online teaching over the past year. Teaching in the virtual academy will be their sole responsibility.
“I am excited that we have been able to hire a number of teachers who have been engaged in virtual instruction for some time and have learned a great deal about what makes quality online learning,” Stamey said. “We have also added a district position that will help our teachers design their online classroom pages and support student learning and parent involvement in the best way possible.”
While the virtual academy will offer students the opportunity to learn from anywhere they choose, Stamey said Watauga County Schools has designed the WVA with community in mind from the onset.
“Avoiding isolation for our students who are learning remotely was another important lesson we learned over the course of remote instruction last year,” Stamey said. “We are planning weekly opportunities for students to come to a physical site to work on science labs, enjoy a read aloud, have class at the park, or engage in other social events. By having a dedicated staff and a director, we will be able to develop other parts of the school day that will give students an opportunity to connect with each other and with the staff in meaningful ways.”
Kim Shockey, whose children were enrolled in online learning over the last school year, said her children had grown and flourished in remote instruction in ways they never had in a traditional classroom setting.
“Our experience with virtual learning has been beyond amazing,” Shockey said. “My two children have two of the best teachers I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I knew about their amazing teaching abilities in the classroom, but they have carried those skills into their online instruction and made virtual school a truly beneficial and positive learning experience. Both of my children have achieved more growth this year than they did in the physical classroom, and both have become more outspoken and confident.”
Shockey said her daughter Ella, a 1st Grader, and son Mason, a 3rd Grader had both grown in their confidence in learning from home.
“Every moment of online instruction is meaningful and has a purpose,” Shockey said. Once terrified to raise his hand and ask for help, Mason is now outspoken and even volunteers to share information in his cohort.”
Shockey said she was initially hesitant to make the switch to online learning, but she had felt supported by teachers and staff, and her children had taken to the new environment quickly.
“I was nervous as I made my decision to keep my children at home in the safest possible environment for them,” Shockey said. “But it is the best decision I could have possibly made, and I am so very thankful that my children were given this opportunity. Because of the WVA and their amazing teachers, they have become self-guided, independent learners who love learning.”
Stamey said Shockey’s experience in virtual learning wasn’t unique across the district. While some students felt more at home in a traditional classroom, others had excelled in a virtual environment.
“We had students who struggled with distractions and other issues in traditional classrooms that were better able to focus at home,” Stamey said. “Other students who were more shy or who struggled with anxiety felt comfortable and able to contribute in their classrooms in new ways. Both students who could complete work quickly and those that needed more time with their assignments found the flexibility they needed in remote instruction.”
Watauga County Schools Superintendent Scott Elliott commented that the new virtual academy will be another high-quality choice for families in the community.
“I am very proud of the quality of our schools and the many opportunities available to our students. The online academy is one more way we can serve families for whom remote instruction is a good option,” Elliott said.
Enrollment for the Watauga Virtual Academy will be open from May 18 to June 18. You may find more information and enroll online at www.wataugaschools.org/wva
Enrollment in the WVA is also open to homeschool dual enrollment families. If you have questions, please contact Director Tamara Stamey at [email protected].