With all the challenges the pandemic has brought to public education, one thing is making school leaders in Durham excited for the future.
Durham Public Schools is making their first K-12 virtual academy a permanent school in the fall.
Ignite Online Academy will bring a personalized approach to learning, combining virtual lessons with field trips for students interested in taking lessons from the comfort of their own homes.
While the district has enrolled students in e-learning at their home schools since last fall in response to the pandemic, Ignite will operate in some ways differently from distance learning last year, have the administrators told school board members Thursday night.
âThis is the most exciting thing to come from COVID, I think, in Durham,â said Natalie Beyer, board member. “It will be an incredible learning opportunity for so many students.”
Ignite will begin with summer programming and plans to launch in the fall with approximately 500 students.
It will include eight primary school teachers, seven middle school teachers and three secondary school teachers, as well as an internship coordinator.
The academy will also have counselors for ESL students, and for students in the Exceptional Children and Academicly or Intellectually Gifted programs.
How will this differ from online courses now?
Assistant Superintendent of Academic Services Nakia Hardy and Matt Hickson, District E-Learning Director, described a few ways Ignite would diverge from how online courses work today.
âª Hours would be more flexible and personalized for students
âª In-person and blended learning opportunities will be available
âª Teachers will apply and receive training for Ignite
âª Students will be able to sign up for âexpeditions,â which are shorter than one-semester electives. They will operate with nine-week rotations, including traditional elective activities and experiential learning opportunities, such as field trips.
One expedition Ignite currently offers is a computer science program run by CS Sidekicks, where Duke University graduates teach DPS students how to code and build websites, Hickson said.
Ignite will follow the student standards set by the North Carolina Department of Education’s Digital Learning Plan and the International Society for Technology in Education, Hardy said.
âWe have learned a lot from our teachers, our students and our community about the practice of online learning during the school year and have made the transition,â said Hardy, thanking the board of directors of ” providing digital devices to students.
The DPS spent about $ 7.8 million of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds last year to purchase more than 20,000 laptops for students.
While extenuating circumstances may allow students to opt out of Ignite after enrolling, Hardy said families who enroll should seriously commit to a full year.
Online academies across the state and country
Some charter schools statewide are already offering virtual courses, including the North Carolina Cyber ââAcademy and the North Carolina Virtual Academy, based in Durham.
Wake County also operates an online public school, Wake County Crossroads Flex, which offers blended learning. The district launched the WCPSS Virtual Academy last summer, but it’s unclear whether this will continue after the pandemic.
Schools in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City provide distance education throughout the district. It doesn’t offer a separate online academy, as Durham will, but some administrators are considering that option, district spokesman Jeffrey Nash said.
Outside of the Triangle, Pitt and Iredell counties also operate online academies.
Enrollment in full-time, state-funded virtual schools for Kindergarten to Grade 12 has increased nationwide since before the pandemic, according to reports from the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder.
In its 2013 study, the research center identified 311 virtual schools with around 200,000 students for the 2011-12 academic year, including charters.
By the 2017-2018 school year, those numbers had grown to 511 virtual schools, with 297,712 students, according to a 2019 study.
Screen time, athletics and acceleration
Although more information will come later this spring, Hickson said he hopes to create opportunities for kindergarten children to learn outdoors.
âWe know that it is not a good practice to have children on the computer screen all day,â he said. “Especially our youngest learners.”
Students will also be able to participate in sports and athletics through their base school.
Ignite will give students the chance to be exposed to more advanced courses than their grade level usually involves. Because this is a Kindergarten to Grade 12 school, it has the flexibility to raise and lower course levels to personalize a student’s curriculum, Hickson said.
âCertainly with middle school and high school, we have a lot of opportunities to accelerate through online learning,â he said.
This story was originally published 26 March 2021 5.15 pm.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to clarify how Expeditions differ from traditional elective courses.
Corrected March 28, 2021