New Albany-Plain Local’s virtual classes foster tangible learning

SARAH SOLE
ThisWeekNEWS.com
New Albany-Plain Local School District sixth-grader Campbell Barber, 12, works online as part of her daily classes in the district’s Virtual Learning Program. She is pictured at her home Sept. 24.
Lorrie Cecil/ThisWeek

Kimberly Lee Minor knew her son, Carter, thrives in a stable environment.

It was for that reason that Minor chose virtual learning over in-person instruction for her New Albany High School sophomore, she said.

“I just didn’t want to disrupt his learning,” she said.

Minor’s son is one of 1,508 students enrolled in New Albany-Plain Local School District’s Virtual Learning Program through Jan. 15, according to Superintendent Michael Sawyers.

A total of 3,575 students are in the district’s in-person learning curriculum, he said.

The Virtual Learning Program, which was implemented because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, appears to be off to a stable start. Minor and two other district parents, Colleen Barber and Michelle Casper, said they have been pleased with the online learning setup thus far.

Classes began for all students Sept. 8, said district spokesman Patrick Gallaway.

Registration for the next semester of the VLP likely will be late this month or in early November to permit staff members to plan accordingly to meet students’ academic needs, he said.

Scott Emery, director of elementary education and coordinator of the VLP for grades K-6, said elementary teachers teach live lessons daily in reading, writing and math via videoconferencing. Intermediate students – grades 4, 5 and 6 – receive daily science instruction from New Albany teachers, he said.

Teachers also provide recorded lessons for art, music, wellness and phonics for grades K-3 and additional math and writing lessons to supplement the daily live instruction, Emery said.

Teachers of intermediate students also provide recorded math and English lessons as a supplement, he said.

SchoolsPLP, an online-learning platform, is used for social studies, science and special classes when instruction isn’t provided by New Albany-Plain Local teachers, Emery said.

Gallaway said the district’s cost for SchoolsPLP is $77 per student.

Related story:If option remains, 23% of New Albany-Plain Local students will start 2020-21 online

Katie Roberts, New Albany High School’s assistant principal and the VLP coordinator for grades 7-12, said SchoolsPLP primarily is used to deliver curriculum to students in those grades. Some Advanced Placement courses are being taught via the Apex platform, which the district has used for a number of years, she said.

Each student is assigned to a VLP teacher, who monitors attendance and course progress and conducts weekly meetings with students, Minor said. 

Students also meet with teacher facilitators weekly for support, intervention or enrichment in each subject they are studying, Roberts said. Staff members hold daily office hours for academic support, she said.

Although her son misses classroom interaction and participation, Minor said, the online-learning program is fine. The teachers seem involved and available, she said.

The start of the program wasn’t without glitches. For example, Carter’s AP world-history class initially had an end date of 2021, and he wasn’t able to access his classwork until the dates were corrected, Minor said.

Still, Minor said, the program affords the family flexibility – they were on Martha’s Vineyard during an interview for this story. Minor said she had participated in teacher conferences virtually.

She said her decision about whether to continue with virtual learning for the second semester largely hinges on whether a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available.

“I need to see more consistency,” she said.

Consistency drove Casper to choose virtual learning for her children, Alexandra, a fourth-grader at New Albany Intermediate School, and Jack, a second-grader at New Albany Primary School.

“We really spent a lot of time thoughtfully thinking through what was best for our children’s education and what would offer the most consistency for them,” Casper said of the decision she and her husband, Mark, made.

Casper said she is not worried about health aspects as much because she trusts the district’s safety measures.

Rather, she said, she was worried that during any hybrid periods of learning in-person, in which students would spend some days at home learning online and some days in the classroom, her son might have limited availability from teachers during the days he would be learning at home.

She said she has found the virtual program to be well organized.

“I think that it’s gone really, really well,” she said.

She said she has been impressed with the amount of live education. Classes are a combination of live teaching via Google Meet and self-study, she said.

Like Minor, Casper also said she has been impressed by the teachers’ dedication, and it is comforting. She said she could tell teachers likely are putting in more work for their online classes than they would be for in-person education.

Casper said she is unsure whether her children would continue virtual learning next semester. If in-person classes move back and forth between hybrid and all in-person learning, she more than likely would elect to keep them online, she said.

Meanwhile, Barber plans to let her children decide if they want to continue learning online next semester, she said.

Barber and her husband, Zach, have three girls in the district: Campbell, 12, is a sixth-grader, and Paisley, 10, is a fifth-grader at New Albany Intermediate School, and Lindy, 5, is a kindergartner at the New Albany Early Learning Center. They also have a son, Nash, who is 4.

Campbell wants to be in school because of a lack of socialization, Barber said.

Barber said she had thought the online program would be self-paced. Instead, she has found that her children have interactive instruction, and she has not had to assist them at all, she said.

New Albany-Plain Local School District sixth-grader Campbell Barber, 12, pictured at her home Sept. 24, is one of 1,508 students enrolled in the district’s Virtual Learning Program.
Lorrie Cecil/ThisWeek

For example, Campbell’s first class begins at 7:45 a.m. Because it is a foreign-language elective – the students learn French first and then Spanish later – Campbell completes self-guided lessons and watches videos and receives assistance as needed from teachers, Barber said.

She said she has no regrets about her children learning online instead of in the classroom.

“It’s been absolutely fantastic,” Barber said.