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The Brief, Distressed Life of a Virtual School

March 6, 2021

In July 2020, my school district unveiled its “virtual school” as one means of educating students during a pandemic.

At the time, I was surprised to read that the district had planning to open a virtual school anyway. The pandemic just sped up the process. From the July 11, 2020, Nola.com:

The St. Tammany Parish Public Schools system already planned to unveil its new online school this year to meet the needs of families living in an increasingly digital world. But the surge of coronavirus cases has the program on a fast track. …

STPPS Virtual School is a software platform that allows teachers to work directly with students via an online connection. The school will adhere to the same educational standards of the district’s 55 brick and mortar campuses….

Teachers will use instructional videos and modules to teach students and will monitor their progress through daily interaction. Classes will be held on an online platform such as Zoom. The counselor will ensure older students are taking the right classes to graduate and help them with necessary transcripts and other paperwork as they prepare for college. …

Students who enroll in the virtual school will be asked to remain enrolled for the entire semester.

As for remaining enrolled for the entire semester:

Not so much.

During the first quarter of the school year, I began receiving students who were transferring from the virtual school, often with low or failing course averages, and I was not alone. Students were arriving on our doorstep near the end of a grading period from what appeared to be an ill-functioning virtual situation, and it seemed that we were expected to salvage the situation in the eleventh hour, so to speak.

One student who arrived in my class admitted to never having logged on even once to complete work in the online version of my course. I formulated a plan with this student to complete a number of assignments for me in short order so that this student’s first-quarter failing grade would be closer to passing, in hopes that averaging it with a healthier, second quarter grade might yield a passing average for the semester.

Near the end of the first quarter, the district publicized that students did not have to wait until the end of the semester to return to brick-and-mortar schools and could switch at the end of the first quarter. But the changes did not start with nor did they stop at the clean break of a grading period.

On January 23, 2021, I wrote about our virtual school’s whopper enrollment loads per teacher. An excerpt:

First-semester biology, 282 students; first-semester environmental science, 461 students– both belonging to the same teacher of record (who has an additional 91 students in two other classes).

Yowsa.

First-semester US History, 306 students; first-semester World History, 129 students, AP US History, 48 students– all assigned to one teacher.

First-semester English I, 381 students; first-semester English I Honors, 55 students– both courses, one teacher.

First-semester Algebra I, 394 students assigned to one teacher, who also has another 125 students in 3 additional courses.

First-semester Government, 567 students. One teacher.

Making teachers responsible for so many students is problematic on its face.

Add to that the likes of my student who did not log into online class even once and you end up with something like this as part of an email announcement from the superintendent seven months later, in March 2021:

We are also making plans to close our STPPS Virtual School. The virtual school and online learning platform have served their purpose this school year in response to COVID, but it is in the best interest of our students to receive face-to-face instruction and support if possible. Our virtual school students will return to the physical schools in their attendance zone at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.

There was no mention of keeping the virtual school in operation “to meet the needs of families living in an increasingly digital world,” as the Nola.com put it in July 2020.

Whether or not the virtual school actually “served it purpose” a matter for debate.

What is certainly true, however, is that “it is in the best interest of our students to receive face-to-face instruction and support if possible.”

STPPS Virtual School, we hardly knew ye.

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No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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2 Comments
  1. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    I hope you will have the energy to put this and other experiences into a book. Others need to read about your teaching life during this dreadful interlude, hopefully ending before another school year

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