NC Virtual Academy is Teaching Local Students Online

Kristina Mitchem

Originally published in the Taylorsville Times – September 27, 2017

The education landscape continues to evolve with changing times, and one example of that is the NC Virtual Academy (NCVA), an online public charter school authorized by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, which has at least four Alexander County students enrolled in it.

NCVA, according to its Head of School, Joel Medley, of Raleigh, was founded in August 2015 and is overseen by a non-profit board of directors as North Carolina Learns, Inc. Medley is a life-long educator and award-winning teacher, school administrator, and state education official.

He was most recently the Director of the Office of Charter Schools in the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Prior to that role he taught at middle school, high school and community college levels, and was named the 2001 North Carolina Educator of the Year for high school teachers. He also served as a school administrator in both traditional and charter schools.

The school is a 4-year pilot program and the concept has proven rather popular in its first years of operation. The 2017-18 school year is the third year for NCVA.

Medley, in a phone interview with The Times, said the school was approved for 1,500 students its first year (2015-16), for 1,800 its second year (2016-17), and is approved for 2,160 students this year. Some 2,500 students applied for the 360 seats added since last year in NCVA. A lottery method is used to pick students for NCVA, due to the limited number of seats.

The goal of NC Learns, Inc., is to obtain a full and clear charter for NCVA. “We want to provide the best education we can for these kids, and meet children where they are, academically,” Medley said.

“The main thing is that we are a public school. There’s no fee or tuition,” Medley stated. “We actually receve less money than the local school districts do per child, but we still have to meet the same criteria.” His motto? “Every child. Every class. Every day.”

The online school offers Exceptional Childrens’ (EC) and Academically/Intellectually Gifted (AIG) courses. Some 14 percent of NCVA students are Special Education children and 67 percent are eligible for free or reduced lunch.

In addition to online courses taught by State-certified teachers, the charter school is required to operate at least 8 testing centers (Medley said NCVA has 16 testing centers across the state). The testing centers are placed so they are a drive time of 25 minutes or less from families.

“Every administrator wants to create a school they’d want their own child to go to,” Medley related. “And my son attends NCVA.”

NCVA tailors the education with an individualized approach, allowing students to go as fast or as slow as they need to go. Core courses are offered in language arts/English, math, science, history, art, health/PE, and music.

Eligible NCVA high school students can enroll in college classes at North Carolina community colleges and universities in Dual Enrollment, just as other local high school students can.

The online school serves 95 of the state’s 100 counties. Medley said they have students enrolled from Alexander, Caldwell, Iredell, Burke, Watauga, and other counties in the region.

NCVA from a local family’s perspective

The Times visited one Alexander family back in May whose children are attending NCVA. Hiddenite couple Tina Brown and Dana Mitchem said that their four schoolage children — Eve, Jacob, Kristina, and Isabella — are all attending NCVA.

Three had attended public schools, first in Iredell and then in Alexander, when the family moved here, prior to enrolling in NCVA. For multiple reasons, the family feels that NCVA is the best fit for them. Eve, then 13, said she likes the virtual school. “I don’t have to go to school and don’t have to wake up so early,” Eve said. Kristina, 9, said she prefers the schedule, too. “And I get to be at home, with my family,” she added. Kristina had experienced bullying at public schools, but now that is not an issue.

Jacob, 10, had been to three different doctors because his public school teachers had suggested he had ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). However, Tina said the doctors told her that Jacob just needed to get up and move around more often. The flexibility that NCVA provides fits well with Jacob’s needs, Tina related.

“I think they get more help now, in person. If the kids don’t understand something, teachers will call the home and help them,” Tina noted. “They are there every day until 5 p.m. to call about schooling.” And speaking of flexibility, Dana said NCVA works well with doctor appointments, travel, and other things that crop up.

Another thing Tina liked is that NCVA sends all the books, even laptops (based on eligibility), free of charge, for the students. (Students and families are responsible for providing some consumable materials, such as printer ink and paper.) Dana noted that NCVA has a message system for students and separate messaging for parents, and parents can log in and check their children’s work progress. Students can be paired together and can do group work online, to further enhance their interpersonal skills.

NCVA also holds field trips for students and Tina noted that parents can even count their own field trips with family toward their education.

When asked what she would recommend to other families interested in online public education, Tina encouraged parents to check out NCVA and find out about the flexibility of schedules and the educational assistance NCVA teachers offer to children.

Parents can find out more about the NC Virtual Academy on its website, www.ncva.k12.com.

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