PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — All of our area school districts are planning full returns to traditional in-person learning next school year.
But if you aren't quite ready for the return or enjoyed the virtual learning atmosphere, there are still options available.
However, if you choose a virtual school format for the 2021/22 academic year, it will look a little different.
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"At first I was hesitant about it because one of my strengths was building report with students," said Summer Hooten, a Spanish teacher with Florida Virtual School. "I’ve always prided myself in that and something I feel is really important."
Hooten made the switch to Florida Virtual School several years ago and hasn't looked back.
"What I found is it actually allows you to have an even stronger connection with students through the virtual platform, and you are able to build even stronger relationships," Hooten said.
Hooten is a former teacher at Boca Raton Community High School, now virtually teaching students all over the state.
"I have seen a huge influx in enrollment with this past year," Hooten said.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, many families turned to virtual education full-time, either through a virtual school format or distance learning, with students following their daily bell schedule and teachers for live classes each day.
But that distance learning option will go away next school year.
"One thing we are looking at right now is how do we leverage a current structure we have in place, which is Palm Beach Virtual," said Glenda Sheffield, the chief academic officer for the School District of Palm Beach County.
Palm Beach County school leaders said nothing can replace traditional in-person learning. But for those not ready for a return to the classroom, the Palm Beach Virtual School remains an option.
"Palm Beach Virtual is asynchronous, meaning that is is a preset course curriculum," Sheffield said. "It is pretty much self-directed online learning for the students."
District leaders are working to expand the courses offered and build up the virtual options, but said it takes a committed student and parents to make the education work.
"Somebody that has time management skills, self-motivated, independent type of learner," said Jay Boggess, an assistant superintendent with the School District of Palm Beach County. "Somebody that can be self-paced as they are working through this curriculum."
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"Our enrollment grew about 400%. So yeah, we did see a big uptick in enrollment," said Jeanne Zimba, the principal at Mosaic Digital Academy, St. Lucie County's all-virtual option.
Zimba said the flexibility is a big draw for some families, but agreed that parents need to be ready for a full-time experience.
"It really does take a family member that is really committed to spending the day with the child and helping them to go through the content and attend live lessons and work through their courses," Zimba said.
Teachers in the Mosaic Digital Academy are available during the day to assist students and also hold regular "office hours." Students can choose to take tests on the weekends or at night, and can revisit lessons as needed.
"Our instructors do offer live instruction scheduled throughout the week. So it just depends on the core subject and grade level," Zimba said. "So they do have to attend synchronized lessons with the teacher, just not on a bell schedule."
Hooten said many of her students are thriving in this atmosphere.
"I've had chances to work one-on-one with students and find out their true needs," Hooten said.
Here are some other factors to consider when it comes to virtual school:
- Virtual learning programs have been around for years before the COVID-19 pandemic
- The school district programs are considered franchises of Florida Virtual School
- If you participate in a school district's virtual program, students can still take part in extracurricular activities and sports at your zoned school
- The teachers are also employed with the school district
It's also important to note that if the virtual learning environment is not working for you, there are only certain times of the year, like the end of a semester, when you can make the switch back to brick-and-mortar education.
For more information about Florida Virtual School, click here.
To learn more about Palm Beach Virtual School, click here.
The Mosaic Digital Academy is available for St. Lucie and Martin County students. For more information, click here. There will be an information session via Zoom on June 15 at 2 p.m. Attendees must register in advance by clicking here. Full-time virtual school inquiries for the Mosaic Digital Academy will be accepted through July 10.
The School District of Indian River County offers Indian River Virtual. The deadline to enroll is July 1. For more information, click here.
To deadline to enroll in the virtual education program for the Okeechobee County School District is June 5. For more information, click here.