California Educator

October/November 2021

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A S T H E P A N D E M I C waned and schools reopened, most educators were thrilled to resume in-person instruction in a brick-and-mortar classroom; but others discovered that they preferred the freedom, flex- ibility and technology of online instruction. e same has been true for students: While many struggled with distance learning and missed being in the classroom, others thrived and loved it. To meet the needs of students, parents and teachers who wanted learning to remain online, Antioch Unified School District created omas Gaines Virtual Academy for grades TK-8, in collaboration with the Antioch Education Association (AEA). e academy opened in August. " We intend for it to stick around in the future," says AEA President Valorie Luke. "It's not just an answer to COVID concerns." Nonetheless, the recent COVID-19 surge made the school more desirable for families wanting to minimize exposure. The COVID surge, in fact, correlated with a huge surge in enrollment. What began as a small school with about 100 students grew to nearly 1,000 enrollees in one month. At first the virtual school was open to students from other districts whose families sought more than indepen- dent study for at-home learning. But now the burgeoning academy only enrolls new students from Antioch Uni- fied. Enrollment fluctuates, and students are allowed to transfer to the virtual academy — or back to in-person learning — upon request. P l annin g for th e acad emy st ar t ed in Novemb er, w h e n a d m i n i s t ra t o r s a s k e d L u k e a n d o t h e r A E A members to join a committee to discuss the future of education and incorporate some of the beneficial things from distance learning into the 2021-22 school year. The group queried teachers, parents and stu- dents, asking what kinds of things they would like to A Digital Pivot Educators meet student and community needs in helping create virtual school in Antioch By Sherry Posnick‑Goodwin see carried over to this school year. Many requested that virtual education itself continue. "We weren't surprised to see this kind of enthusiasm from our school community," says Stephanie Allred, an AEA member who served on the committee and teaches seventh grade history and English at Thomas Gaines. "Distance learning isn't for ever yone, and it doesn't work if it's mandatory. Some students need to be in a room with other people to have a connection with learn- ing. But we saw some students thrive in remote learning, and they didn't want to go back. When you look at the data, you can see their academic growth." T h e m o d e l f o r t h e a c a d e m y w a s not based on existing online schools. Instead, a team of educators created a model based on what they knew worked with remot e learning in Antio ch and built upon that foundation. The school board voted to approve the academy as a separate school. 42 Teaching & Learning Valorie Luke Jennifer Raymond " We intend for it to stick around in the future. It's not just an answer to COVID concerns." — Valorie Luke, president, Antioch Education Association

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