Some Grandview Heights students find their place in the sun at Florida Virtual Academy

ALAN FROMAN
afroman@thisweeknews.com
Kristi Jump, Grandview Heights Schools K-5 media specialist, is helping to oversee the district's participation in the Florida Virtual School option. The district offered the online school -- also facilitated by Grandview Heights High School media specialist Erin Engle -- to families who aren't comfortable with the possibility of students returning to classrooms during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Jump is pictured Aug. 20 at Stevenson Elementary School.

Grandview Heights students started the new school year Aug. 17 the same way they ended the last one: learning from home.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic led Grandview Heights Schools officials to begin the year with a full remote-learning model, with plans to pivot, if possible, to a hybrid model that will combine face-to-face and remote instruction or to traditional full-day instruction in the classroom.

However, 43 students have chosen to learn from home no matter which way the district pivots – at least for now.

Those students have signed up to participate in an online curriculum provided by the Florida Virtual School.

Grandview offered the option to families who are uncomfortable with sending their children back into the classroom, or are unable to do so, if the district switches to a hybrid or in-person model.

Families are able to opt out of the virtual school at any time, but the district is recommending they wait until the end of a semester before making the change.

The online school offers more than 190 courses for students in grades K-12.

The program for students in grades K-5 is being administered locally by Kristi Jump, Stevenson Elementary School and Edison Intermediate/Larson Middle School media specialist.

Grandview Heights High School media specialist Erin Engle is serving as the local teacher for the grades 6-12 program.

The courses are taught online by staff from Florida Virtual School, Engle said

The school is accredited by Congia and Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' Council on Accreditation and School Improvement.

All of its courses meet Florida standards.

The curriculum and course material are "very similar" to what Grandview is offering in its own remote-learning format, Jump said.

"The main difference is that the Florida Virtual School is more asynchronous," she said. "Because all the lessons are prerecorded and online, students can do the work at their own pace, when it best fits their schedule."

In the upper grades, where students are taking individual courses, some are opting to follow the modified day with shortened class periods, and others are choosing to focus primarily on a specific subject each day, Engle said.

As the local "teachers" for the program, she and Jump are available to assist students and their families with individual issues they may have and to grade student assignments that require more subjective evaluation, such as those with short answers or essays, Engle said.

"We're the bridge between FLVS and their school," said Jump, who described herself as the "homeroom teacher" for the Grandview students participating in the program.

The school provides students with a pacing guide for each course and subject, with recommendations and guidelines for what they are expected to complete each week, she said.

Twenty-five students in grades K-5 have signed up for the program, Jump said, including three kindergarten students, seven first-graders, three second-graders, three third-graders, six fourth-graders and three fifth-graders, she said.

The weekly commitment as listed on the Florida Virtual School website includes three to five hours per core course and one hour per special courses, as well as two to four assignments for core courses and one assignment for each special course.

The students are given a number of learning activities. Some are computer-based, including attending class time, collaborating with classmates, reading, playing games, listening to audio clips and watching videos.

Students in the upper grades attend their various class periods as they would in the traditional school setting, except online, Engle said.

Eighteen students in grades 6-12 are participating in the program, mostly younger students, she said.

Four sixth-graders, six seventh-graders and six eighth-graders have signed up, Engle said. Only two high school students are participating.

"I'm not sure why there's such a disparity," she said. "It may be that it's more important for high school students to stay connected to their school."

Students who are participating in the virtual school still are able to take part in any extracurricular activities and sports offered in Grandview, Engle said.

"All students are getting notices about school events and activities through our Schoology platform," she said.

"That's really important – that these students at all grade levels are able to stay connected and feel like they are part of their school," Engle said.

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