How we created a cutting edge virtual school for our district

Female high school student sitting in library wearing a headset looking at computer screen

As education providers, we are always looking for new ways to customize and improve our teaching approach to better serve our students, and many districts are looking outside the traditional school model to meet students’ individual learning needs. Now more than ever that includes online learning – options such as full-time virtual school or blended options.

In 2010, Ephrata Area School District introduced an integrated digital approach to K-12 education, Ephrata Virtual Academy. At that time, the concept of online learning was still relatively new, but what was once a new venture has turned into a proven system with the integration of digital learning platforms like Pearson Connexus, an online program that offers high-quality curriculum, a variety of online courses and credentialed teachers, and face-to-face learning.

In our program, students and their families have the flexibility to choose the schedule and classes that accommodate their learning needs. With the success of integrating e-labs and on-site labs – with live teachers reinforcing challenging courses like math – Ephrata Virtual Academy has proven that one size does not fit all when it comes to education.

Ephrata Virtual Academy now offers three unique options for online and blended learning focused on student-centered education.

  1. Asynchronous Learning: For students who want the full-time at-home cyber experience.
  2. Hybrid Model: For students who want a mixture of an online and offline experience.
  3. Learning Lab: For students seeking independence to work at their own pace but need the structure of an on-site lab with learning coaches and teachers available.

Ephrata Virtual Academy served more than 100 students with supplemental classes and nearly 145 full-time students in the 2014-15 school year. Our students benefit from core curriculum and career technical education courses such as medical terminology and criminal investigations, among others. Dual enrollment is also available for students who are motivated to get a head start on college, as well as summer school credit recovery for those who need to catch up.  

Giving our students these options has increased their academic success significantly. Improved learning is almost directly reflected in our ability to keep students engaged in our local educational system while meeting their unique needs through distance learning or a less distracting lab setting. We bring students back who had dropped out for reasons neither they nor we could control, and we keep our kids from leaving with the flexible learning environments that we’ve created. 

Our online program has also helped to create capacity for our teachers who can now use content from Pearson’s GradPoint system to assign specific units or lessons to students who might miss school for a variety of reasons. Ephrata teachers have access to high-quality online curriculum as well as the ability to adapt the curriculum without having to generate all of it themselves. More time can be spent supporting students and less time creating online content.

We pride ourselves on the success of our students, and we’re always willing to explore new learning tools and models to help them achieve academic success. We continuously work to improve our online curriculum and tools to ensure that students are receiving the highest quality education on an easy-to-use digital platform.

 

Marc Guerrasio of Connections Education talks more about Connexus on Blog Talk Radio.

 

About the Author
Dan Mahlandt

Dan Mahlandt

Dan Mahlandt is the coordinator of virtual education at Ephrata Area School District in Ephrata, Pennsylvania.