Students can now enroll in the virtual program at Sand Springs Public Schools as early as kindergarten, though none have done so yet.
The Sand Springs Virtual Academy extended its programming to students in kindergarten through second grade this school year. Previously, the district offered full-time and blended virtual options for grades three and up through the online Edgenuity curriculum platform.
This year, Sand Springs is partnering with Calvert Learning, an organization specializing in nontraditional education, to provide a project-based virtual learning option for all elementary students. Middle and high school students continue to use Edgenuity.
District officials wanted to give third- through fifth-grade students already enrolled in the virtual program a more experiential web-based education. The new curriculum also allowed them to expand all the way down to kindergarten, said Jay Rotert, director of the Sand Springs Virtual Academy.
Although the curriculum still lets elementary students receive their instruction online from home, there’s a larger emphasis on hands-on projects and cooperation.
“When we have multiple students in the same grade level, they have the ability to collaborate on different assignments,” Rotert said. “It’s just a richer education experience than what we’ve had in the past.”
The curriculum also places more responsibility on parents, who assume the role of learning coach and are given a set of instructional notes to follow.
Currently, only two elementary students are enrolled in the virtual academy. None are in the second grade or lower, though some families have expressed interest and enrollment still is underway.
Rotert said there are concerns about younger kids taking classes virtually due to the importance of socialization in early developmental stages.
But the virtual program isn’t intended for every child. It’s meant for those who struggle in conventional classroom settings or have unorthodox schedules.
“It’s not that we necessarily think that online would be best for that age,” Rotert said. “It’s just that we’re making it available in case it’s a need that a family has.”
It’s too early to say how much interest there will be in Sand Springs’ virtual academy for elementary students. Overall, the program has experienced impressive growth in recent years, with more than 250 students enrolled in least one online class.
About 125 students, mostly high-schoolers, take more than one online class. Full-time virtual students come in once a week to meet with the academy director or their assigned teacher but perform most of their work at home.
A computer lab equipped with core teachers is available at Charles Page High School for those who need help or a quiet place to work on assignments.
Sand Springs implemented blended and full-time virtual programming eight years ago, becoming one of the first Tulsa-area districts to do so.
The list has grown significantly since then. Sapulpa and Union are among the latest to launch full-time virtual academies.
High interest from districts around the state prompted the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration to launch a framework designed to guide them through the world of virtual learning.
An assistant director for the nonprofit organization told the Tulsa World earlier this month he believed the number of Oklahoma districts offering virtual education could triple in the next year.
So far, most traditional school districts with virtual academies limit enrollment to high school students and sometimes middle-schoolers. Sand Springs, as well as Sapulpa and Bixby, are some of the few that include elementary students.
Like Rotert, Sand Springs Superintendent Sherry Durkee said it’s important to have the means to accommodate every student — including those who don’t perform well at brick-and-mortar schools.
“Our obligation is to try to meet the needs of people within our geographic boundaries, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Durkee said.
Families can call 918-246-1483 for more information or enroll their children in the Sand Springs Virtual Academy.