Making the Best of a Bad Situation

Virtual Learning Academies Popping Up to Give Working Parents a Choice

Virtual learning teacher and student at Rehoboth.Pick up and drop off are a little bit busier these days at Rehoboth Baptist Church. The church, which opened a very popular preschool in 2018, recently made the decision to start a new venture this school year: a virtual learning academy.

“It started with me being a mom,” recalls Rehoboth Preschool Director Dr. Mollita Clark. “My oldest is in middle school, but I didn’t want to put that responsibility on her to make sure that my first grader was doing her work because my middle schooler, she’s in her class all day. I thought, well, if we need this, then the community needs this.”

The emergence of these virtual learning academies has met a definite need. The DeKalb County School District is currently waiting on COVID cases in the County to drop below 100 cases per 100,000 to enter the school reopening phase. But even when that happens, students would only attend for face-to-face instruction once, or at most twice a week. That’s a reality parents will most likely be facing for the remainder of the school year.

While some parents have the resources to keep their students at home, others have turned to virtual learning pods, where a group of students meet at someone’s home and a parent or other facilitator assist them in completing their classes. The only other alternative is the virtual learning academy. Staffed by individuals with at least some classroom experience, these academies offer students the chance to grow in their studies, as well as socially.

“We thought about what it would look like. The classrooms, they would need to be big classrooms where there’s lots of space so that they can social distance. We have about eight students per classroom. They’re adult classrooms, [so] that means they’re bigger spaces,” Clark explains.

Virtual-Learning-Academy student classroom.

Rehoboth and St. Andrew’s Presbyterian are two churches here in Tucker that have opened virtual learning academies amid the pandemic. Combined, they are serving about 50 elementary and middle school age students each day. Recently, they teamed up with the City of Tucker to receive funding from the federal CARES Act. Now these two churches will be reimbursed for capital improvements they had to make in order to accommodate their virtual learners.

As for the students, they are in virtual class on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from about 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. Wednesdays are reserved for a mental break, as well as catching up on work. This is a markedly more relaxed schedule than what they are accustomed to, but there are other advantages, as well.

“Some [are making] better grades than they’ve had in the past,” Clark observes. “There’s just not those distractions that there are in public school. I had this one student, in particular, he’s in middle school, and he told me ‘I like it here…the bullies aren’t here.’

“My oldest daughter, she wasn’t necessarily bullied, but there was so much attention on fitting in and all of that’s gone. She can actually put attention on schoolwork and completing assignments in class so that you don’t have a lot of homework.”

At some point in the distant future, students will head back to class and life will get back to normal. When it does, Clark says she won’t necessarily be closing down her virtual learning center.

“Some families, even if there is an opportunity to send them back, they’re just not ready yet. So we want to provide them that opportunity.”

It’s not the traditional definition of “school choice”, but in this age of pandemic, the choice is working out well for parents and students.

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