Like all the other communities in Tulsa Public Schools, Tulsa Virtual Academy is making some adjustments.
However, unlike the district’s brick and mortar campuses, which have had to shift online to accommodate distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, the virtual school is pivoting this fall to include a blended option where students will meet in person in small groups during the school day.
“We’re making that shift because we heard our parents,” Principal Gina Wilson said. “Some of our parents were asking if their kids could come in for a little bit or said that their students were missing this or that. We listened to our feedback from our parents, and that’s where we decided to make that shift to having blended learning.”
Locations for the blended options have not yet been decided. Depending on how many families opt for the blended route, their students’ ages and where they live, some of the district’s previously shuttered schools may be reopened to accommodate Tulsa Virtual Academy students.
“It’ll depend on a number of things,” Superintendent Deborah Gist said. “We do have options. We have district building options and some closed school options, as well. We’ll get that part figured out.
“We just know that we need to have the ability that even though students are in a virtual academy, that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to have the choice to come be part of a club, play with their friends or help build that community.”
In less than a year, the Tulsa Virtual Academy has grown to accommodate about 4,000 students, more than 10% of Tulsa Public Schools’ total student enrollment.
Starting in the fall 2021 semester, the academy will be considered a standalone option similar to its brick and mortar counterparts. Students who are enrolled at TVA will no longer have seats at their previous schools.
That change does not bother Krystal Lyons. Her son, Fletcher Brennan, is a first-grade student at Tulsa Virtual Academy and will be staying there through at least the fall 2021 semester. Part of that decision was based on the opportunity for her son to work at his own pace at home, but it was also out of an abundance of caution due to COVID-19 and comorbidities among some members of the family.
“There’s no vaccine for children yet, and that’s a concern I have,” she said. “We still have grandparents and other people in our lives we want him to get to see without being constantly exposed in school.”
Although Fletcher says he sometimes misses being at his prepandemic school, Patrick Henry Elementary, there are parts of his new school that he likes.
“It’s half and half,” he said. “I love Zearn (online math platform). But I really hate long tests. I don’t mind Zoom too much.”
The school is making other changes for 2021-22. Based on parent feedback, it is discontinuing dual-language instruction next year. Additionally, TVA’s high school students will be able to participate in Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association-sanctioned activities through the brick and mortar schools at which they previously established eligibility.
“It’s not a free-for-all,” Wilson said. “They’re still going to be connected with the school they established eligibility at.”
Featured video: TPS Superintendent thinks schools could restart in-person learning
Gallery: Epic Charter Schools: A Tulsa World investigation