Spokane Public Schools’ virtual academy gives families another option

SPOKANE, Wash. — It’s been almost two months since students went back to in-person learning. However, more than 700 Spokane students decided to stay home and online instead.

Most students would rather sit in class, but some kids are thriving with online learning. Some families still aren’t comfortable sending them back without a vaccine.

Every student learns in their own way, and online is now another option for them since Spokane Public Schools gave them that option this year.

Seventh grader Seth Walker would rather learn online instead of in class.

“It’s because I actually get to relax in my home since this is going on,” Seth said, referring to the rainy weather and the pandemic.

His mom Elizabeth wanted him to be safe. He has an immune deficiency disorder, so they chose to do Spokane Virtual Academy (SVA), the district’s online learning option.

“Every year, he gets sick, so with this pandemic going around, I didn’t want to chance losing him again,” Elizabeth said. “So, I kept him in SVA. I’m really glad, too, because it’s made us closer and it’s made us bond a little bit more and I like having him home.”

She said Seth is learning better this way.

“He’s very shy, getting him around other kids, he gets shut down. So, being on his own, he’s able to open up and get his schoolwork done without any issues,” she said.

Spokane Public Schools has two different online learning options for families: synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous learning is when students log-on to Teams and meet with teachers for several hours and learn in real-time.

Asynchronous learning is when students are sent assignments to do on their own time, where teachers are monitoring and looking at assignments, but they don’t have live lessons.

In both situations, students get to meet with teachers in buildings when they can.

“Last year, [SVA] was more of a drop-in for an hour or so, you might come back frequently throughout the week,” said Regal Elementary School principal Tricia Kannberg. “And this, we’re doing definitely 8:30 to 11:30 instruction with the teacher, they have a break and then they come back from 1 to 2:30 and continue their learning.”

There are 15 dedicated staff members, including 12 teachers, for the online program. It gives students the attention they need, rather than having teachers switch between online learning and kids in class.

“My favorite part about this is, I really feel like we can differentiate for students,” Kannberg said. “I think the other thing we’re anecdotally finding out is that some of our students are here not necessarily because of COVID, but because they might have an anxious personality. There might be some depression, they might be dealing with not being able to be with their peers in person. It’s not a great space for them [in traditional school], and they’re thriving in Spokane Virtual Academy.”

It’s a program Kannberg hopes to have next year and a possibility for Seth to come back, if he wants to.

“I’m really glad for the program, really happy for the program for students like him,” Elizabeth said. “That they have an opportunity where they can be at home and be at school and be safe that’s the best part about it.”

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