Sand Springs Public Schools now has several different ways for instruction for the upcoming school year, giving parents and students three different options.
Tradition, virtual, and blended are the three models for the 2020-21 school year, and a lot of parents are choosing virtual and blended due to the COVID-19 pandemic that forced the 2019-20 school year to end in mid-March.
Sand Springs Superintendent of Schools Sherry Durkee said the school system introduced the virtual academy in 2011, and the blended option has been around for a few years.
“The blended model allows students to access some classes in a traditional setting while taking advantage of online classes simultaneously,” Durkee said. “This option allows a student to completely customize their schedule and allows for options in programs such as concurrent enrollment at Tulsa Community College and coursework at Tulsa Technology Center. CPHS actually houses three Tulsa Tech programs on campus. These are Foundation of Construction, Manufacturing and Interior Design. Last year, we instituted an internship program in partnership with local and regional businesses which allow our students to access work opportunities in areas of interest.”
The tradition option has been around since the first school was opened. It involves face-to-face learning from teachers and includes everything the high school experience has to offer. Traditional includes state-approved curriculum, high-quality face-to-face instruction, teacher instruction and assistance, access to campus services, daily access to counselors, and participation in school activities.
“Most educators would agree face-to-face instruction is extremely valuable and a preferred method of instruction for many students. It is especially effective for elementary age children. However, many students, even at the elementary level, have adjusted well and are quite successful in a virtual learning environment,” Durkee said.
The virtual academy involves online instruction, but there is no face-to-face instruction, and the students do not have daily access to counselors.
The blended option is the best of both worlds. That means the student will use the virtual model as well as the traditional model for instruction.
The obvious benefit is the ability to customize a schedule that is conducive to the schedule of families and the needs of students. SSPS offers a certified staff charged with tracking a student’s academic progress through the content and can provide direct instruction when a student is struggling with content.
They have established a learning lab, separate from all other sites, that is available every day of the week for students to come in person to access help. The learning lab is staffed with certified teachers, including a special education resource teacher.
“We offer extended hours in the lab on Monday through Thursday to accommodate students who may need help after traditional school hours are over. Another tremendous benefit is the capability of students to participate in extracurricular activities. These include athletics, fine arts, campus clubs, as well as opportunities for students to participate in special events like awards assemblies, prom, and graduation,” Durkee said.
In all three options, students will still be able to participate in extracurricular activities, including sports.
“Students in a blended or virtual model may participate in any extracurricular activity. At the high school level, some competitive sports require a team try out and the student would be required to attend practice which is also embedded in a class schedule which means they are attending that class one period per day. This may be required for other extracurricular options that have a class period during the ordinary school day. I need to mention our Virtual Academy is NCAA certified,” Durkee said.
The superintendent said that enrollment is right where it is expected to be at this time right now. They need some current students to complete the enrollment process, and parents and families can get help with this process through the enrollment center. Many parents may be still trying to make a decision about which model is appropriate for their child and family dynamics based on the current conditions of the pandemic.
The virtual academy enrollment is definitely up, and they are seeing more pre-K through 5th grade students enrolled this year.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced cities and states to basically close down, and schools were canceled around Spring Break in March, ending the 2019-20 school year prematurely. The closure also ended spring sports, prom, and other events that seniors look forward to in the final year of school.