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Taking Lessons From the Pandemic, Wichita’s Virtual School Alters Its Approach For Fall

Celia Llopis-Jepsen
Kansas News Service

Last spring, Wichita families clamoring for online learning options quickly snapped up 500 spots at Education Imagine Academy, a K-12 virtual school that allows students to work at their own pace.

Next school year, many of those students will return to traditional, in-person schools. Others plan to remain at the virtual academy.

And the online school is changing its approach based on lessons learned from the pandemic.

"There’s been negative feedback, and we know that virtual school is not for every family," said Amanda Young, program manager of Education Imagine Academy. "Every student is different, and every student needs a different type of environment to learn in.

“But we do know that when it does work for students, it works really, really well.”

Next fall, students in the virtual program will attend classes in person two or three half-days each week, depending on their grade level. They also will go on field trips — such as to Exploration Place or the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum — and meet one-on-one with teachers more regularly.

The district’s other virtual option, My School Remote, will not be available in the fall, in part because Kansas lawmakers are pushing for policies that would sharply limit online and hybrid instruction.

“There's no perfect school, ever. But I think that we've tried to take the best things about virtual learning and My School Remote that we've heard from families and tailor a program that highlights all of those good things, to provide an opportunity for students who really thrived in this environment,” Young said.

The district is currently accepting applications for Education Imagine Academy. Enrollment once again will be capped at 500 students: 30 students per grade in the elementary school, 40 per grade for middle school, and 50 per grade for high school.

Young said the pandemic spurred interest in virtual learning. Parents got more involved in their children’s schooling, and some students liked working from home more than they thought they would.

“I asked my high-schooler why she liked it, and she said because she doesn’t have to worry about any of the drama or what she wears to school,” Young said. “We’ve just had a lot of students who really liked the flexibility of learning virtually.”

Young said families considering Education Imagine Academy next year — particularly those coming from My School Remote — are required to meet with administrators, who will explain the similarities and differences.

The virtual school focuses on project-based learning, real-world experiences and community projects. All students are provided a free device and internet service.

The school recently was selected as a Microsoft Showcase School — the only school in Kansas and the first virtual program anywhere to earn the distinction. As a showcase school, EI Academy works closely with Microsoft, and its teachers collaborate with teachers across the globe.

“We get to work with schools all over the world to share best practices," Young said, "and we're not limited by a building or a facility or time and space."

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.