Originally published in Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune – March 29, 2018
Nick London is enjoying attending sixth-grade online with Washington Virtual Academy (WAVA) K-12.
“I like how you can work at your own pace,” said London. “On a busy day I’m done by 1:30. On a non-busy day I’m done by noon because I am working at my own pace.”
WAVA is an Alternative Learning Experience school program of the Omak School District, and runs off the same calendar year schedule. As part of the Washington public school system, WAVA is tuition-free.
Classes vary in size from 10 to 30, depending on subject matter and grade level. As of 2017, 3000 students had enrolled in the program.
The virtual academies use state-certified teachers, and students follow a curriculum established by the school that includes taking state assessments.
London checks in online by 9 a.m. Monday through Thursday, attending a one-hour live Class Connect for two classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Tuesdays and Thursdays they take one-hour classes of Math and English, and Mondays and Wednesdays it’s Science and History.
“The rest of the work he can do whenever. Like if he wanted to go play some basketball right now he could,” said his mom, Betty London, Wednesday, March 21.
The one-hour Class Connects live chats feature his teacher in a corner of the computer screen, with classmates logged in from all over the state. The teacher can see who all is logged in, and if they have a question they raise their hand by clicking on a hand icon.
After being called on, they talk into a microphone. The whole class can hear the student, but can’t interject, as they need to be called on by the teacher to speak.
The teacher is also able to break students into small groups to discuss things.
“The teacher monitors it all, and it’s great. No one is made to feel like they don’t know anything,” said Betty.
Kids are also able to make connections one on one.
“He has met some really bright kids, and there is no judging of anything. He is definitely holding his own and feeling more positive,” said Nick’s mom, Betty. “He is encouraged to do work and doesn’t feel like a failure if he’s not getting something right away.”
“The higher grade level, the more Class Connect time you do,” said Nick.
“The rest of the work he can do whenever. Like if he wanted to go play some basketball right now he could,” said Betty, during the noon hour Wednesday, March 21. Nick’s also taking Art, and appreciates the way WAVA combines it with history.
“We are building sculptures for art, so they match what you are doing for history. For example, right now they are having us do a horse from Greece. When we are studying Egypt, we had to draw art from Egypt.”
“They pull it together pretty good,” said Nick’s father, Doug.
“It really immerses you into what you are learning, instead of everything being separated,” said Betty, who serves as her son’s Teaching Coach. “I always wanted more hands-on through his education, and I always had it. This year I wanted something more. I had seen ads for this free online program, so I jumped online, and boom, here we are.”
Betty said after starting the year in public school, they decided it “just wasn’t working” so they decided to go with K12.
“It just wasn’t conductive to good learning,” said Betty. “I know every kid has a different learning style. I get that, but I also know I have to do what is best for him.”
Betty said Nick was able to start within a month of beginning the application process. Nick’s teachers are all located in Seattle, but Betty said they are easily accessible.
“They get back to me within 24 hours of a phone call or email. I can’t stress enough how helpful they have been with any questions I have,” said Betty. She is able to go into the website at any time and see what he is learning.
Nick said he and his classmates have to complete an assignment for each subject, every day.
“I was getting low D’s and F’s up there (at public school) and here I’m getting high B’s and A’s,” said Nick. “Here, you can retake quizzes up to three times. There are no retakes up there.”
“At the public schools he went to, if he failed to turn in an assignment, it was an automatic F. Here, they ask how they can help the student get the paper written or assignment done,” said Betty.
Students are given short quizzes or three or four questions after every lesson, so teachers know the child is comprehending it before moving on.
“They’re more interested in them learning it than a conveyor line,” said Doug.
“I like K12 because it is more of a learning environment; instead of forcing it, they make sure the students grasp what they are being taught,” said Betty. “I’ve talked to other parents who have kids in K12, some with ADD or whatever, and it handles every level of learning.”
For PE, students need to complete 100 minutes per week, or 20 minutes per day, but Nick’s involvement in intramural sports (soccer, football, and basketball) covers that requirement.
WAVA students are able to participate in public school sports, and Nick said he is looking forward to that in junior high.
Betty said the WAVA program provides plenty of social interactions, including different clubs and outings.
“Nick likes chess and lego clubs and they have music, art, and gardening clubs. K12 has outings they take that we don’t get involved in since we are living here in Tonasket. At the end of the year they are going to the Silverwood Theme Park, so we will probably go so he can meet all his classmates,” said Betty.
To learn more about Washington Virtual Academies, visit http://wava.k12.com/.