Late Buses Persist

A First Student school bus travels along Geist Road Tuesday afternoon, August 22, 2017. School bus transportation continues to be a problem for public schools as the driver shortage persists.

The Department of Education and Early Development has launched Alaska Statewide Virtual School to provide further educational options to Alaska students.

Teachers at local schools are continuing to teach and offer the same programming that they have been planning and delivering for the last few weeks, according to Tamara Van Wyhe, director of innovation and education excellence for the department. The virtual school will provide as many no-cost content and instructional options as possible for educators to use for students and for families to use as additional programming.

Enrollment in the virtual school course does not change a student’s current school enrollment.

“This is merely meant to be a support, so they are still enrolled in their local schools,” Van Wyhe said.

The material will be optional. Students can elect to enroll in courses, or teachers can elect to use the courses as they are already laid out to assist in teaching their classes remotely.

“As far as the supplemental piece,” Van Wyhe said, “an example that I could provide is that in some of the schools they’re focusing on language arts and math because the shift from the traditional classroom model where the teacher is in the classroom with the students, shifting that to outside of the classroom … That’s a lot of work for the teacher and it’s not necessarily something they have a lot of experience with.”

For these schools where the focus is on language arts and math, the virtual school offers students opportunities to take science or social studies, which might not be offered, according to Van Wyhe.

“We’re seeing that as one of the big reasons families are choosing to enroll,” Van Wyhe said, noting that families want their students to keep up with the supplemental material.

There are also some cases, for example in rural schools where there’s just a few teachers across all grade levels, for which these courses can provide those teachers with some support, according to Van Wyhe. In these cases, students can be enrolled in courses through the statewide virtual school so the content is already rolled out and then the teacher can mentor the student.

Readers can register online at www.aklearns.org/aksvs, as well as find answers to some frequently asked questions. The courses provided through the statewide virtual school span from kindergarten through high school. A course catalog of the 60 available spring courses is accessible at tinyurl.com/s3tqgdb.

The course material does not automatically count toward a student’s grade.

“It depends on how the family and how the school want to process a grade or credit,” said Van Wyhe.

The state education department is providing the courses through a partnership with the Florida nonprofit Florida Virtual School Global and with Alaska Telecom Association.

The department has a one-year contract with Florida Virtual School Global, according to Van Wyhe. The contract includes providing coursework for the remainder of the school year, a base for professional development with Alaska teachers, and help transitioning to a fully Alaska virtual school, she said.

Alaska Telecom Association has been offering to connect families to secure internet or to improve the internet they do have.

In the short term, the Alaska Statewide Virtual School opened as an immediate response to the pandemic, according to Van Wyhe. However, she did not discount the possibility that it could remain open.

“We are certainly looking at the Alaska Statewide Virtual School as possibly something that sticks around based on need,” she said.

The department knows online learning can serve as an important option, for example in rural schools where options might be limited, according to Van Wyhe.

“So if the need continues, it may be something that the department continues to support,” she said.

Follow staff writer Kyrie Long at twitter.com/FDNMlocal.