Virtual learning might be on the horizon for SC schools after COVID-19 pandemic

Originally published in The Index-Journal – March 27, 2020

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic led Gov. Henry McMaster to give an executive order and close all public pre-K-12 schools, initially through March, but on Tuesday, the closures were extended through April.

School districts across South Carolina were forced to turn to eLearning and instructional packets to teach students. At the end of the coronavirus pandemic, school districts across the state might transition to incorporating more online and virtual based learning in case another crisis occurs.

Meredith Sims, a teacher at South Carolina Virtual Charter School, said her students “haven’t missed a beat.”

“Our kids have this little piece of normalcy in their lives,” Sims said. “We are very blessed to teach a normal day to our students.”

South Carolina Virtual Charter School is an AdvancED accredited school that began operating 12 years ago. Teachers use Blackboard Collaborate to meet with students live for a minimum of three hours per day. Students get direct instruction from their teachers on subjects, such as English language arts, math, science and history. The school operates on the same calendar as traditional schools, including summer and spring break. They also offer all testing and assessments that traditional schools offer.

“We do everything your traditional brick and mortar public school does,” Sims said. “We just happen to be virtual.”

South Carolina Virtual Charter School is supported by state taxes, which Sims notes is a better choice economically for taxpayers compared to traditional public schools because they don’t receive local tax dollars.

Every teacher at South Carolina Virtual Charter has a minimum of five years teaching experience, which is a requirement for the school to interview them.

“We have teachers coming in with a lot of background knowledge,” Sims noted.

Designation from a child’s parents, or a trusted adult, is required upon enrollment. Either a student’s parent, or a trusted adult, will have to agree to become that student’s learning coach. Sims compared being a learning coach to a full-time job, because the amount of time that needs to be invested in the role. She emphasized how parents, or the adult in charge, will have to be flexible with their child. The learning coach is very important for younger children, but Sims acknowledged how they are not as involved with high school students.

With the school’s virtual setting and required involvement from the learning coaches, Sims feels like she knows both her students and parents very well. She taught in a traditional classroom for six years, and while she got to interact with students, she thought being able to interact with their parent/learning coach gave her a more comprehensive picture of the child.

Sims recommends that school districts begin implementing professional development on how to be an online teacher, which South Carolina Virtual Charter offers, to properly “reach the needs” of their students. She notes how teaching online can seem very overwhelming for traditional teachers in brick and mortar classrooms, so classes and supplemental instruction could help them become more comfortable.

With an average student population of 3,100 and their graduating seniors receiving more than $2 million in scholarships, Sims thinks South Carolina Virtual Charter is “a competitive school compared to anyone.” South Carolina Virtual Charter ranks as the highest performing virtual school in the state.

Athletics are a part of a lot students’ lives, and Sims pointed out a state law that allows homeschool students to participate in interscholastic activities at their local public school if they have been homeschooled.

“The student could come to me and still play football for the high school that they are zoned for,” she said.

While the time span of the coronavirus pandemic is uncertain, Sims thinks her students having normalcy right now is a benefit because as the world changes around them, the way they receive their education has not.

To learn more about South Carolina Virtual Charter School, visit https://scvcs.k12.com/

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