Sapulpa Public Schools is about to join the growing list of traditional school districts in the Tulsa area with a full-time virtual program.
The Sapulpa Virtual Academy launches in August, allowing students from kindergarten through 12th grade to complete coursework entirely from home. There will be a blended model for students who’d rather take only some classes online.
School districts like Sapulpa have begun to embrace online offerings in large part to compete with the rise of virtual charter schools in Oklahoma. The largest of these, Epic Charter Schools, experienced dramatic growth in the past decade.
It wasn’t long ago when traditional schools didn’t have to compete to keep students living in their jurisdiction because there was nowhere else for them to go, Sapulpa Virtual Academy coordinator Bryan Warren said.
Warren, who recently changed roles from assistant principal at Sapulpa High School, said his district has lost numerous students to Epic. Many, he added, return less than a year later more behind in their education than when they left.
“We’ve got plenty of students here in Sapulpa that currently do not go to school here but are taking Epic or one of the other online programs, and they’re really our target,” he said. “We really would like those students to return to us because we think we can provide them with a really good education and make sure that they are on track.”
Last year, Sapulpa piloted a small-scale blended version of the virtual program in which students attended all but one class in person. These students performed most of the coursework in the other class through an online service, and they were provided varying degrees of flexibility in attendance based on their success.
Now students will be able to enroll in Sapulpa Virtual Academy on a full-time basis. Warren expects about 100 to take part in its first year.
Courses must be started from the beginning of the semester. Those who struggle or lag may be required to return to class to catch back up.
“We are absolutely dedicated to not allowing a student to just get behind and fall between the cracks,” Warren said.
A virtual learning computer lab will be located in the high school library for students during regular school day hours. Certified teachers also will be available for help during the day via phone or face-to-face interaction in the computer lab.
About half of the library is being converted into lab space, with the other half continuing to serve traditional students. Warren said the district currently is making do with what’s available. He plans to set up a break room with vending machines to make the virtual students feel more at ease.
“What we really want is an environment where kids are comfortable, where it’s relaxed and they can come get away from the distractions of home or the Xbox,” he said. “It won’t be so stringent. They can come in and listen to their music or chat with their neighbor next to them. They won’t feel like they have to just be silent and work like little robots.”
Full-time virtual students wanting to participate in competitive activities such as athletics, band and choir will be required to attend the class associated with that activity.
Additionally, the Sapulpa Virtual Academy will allow students to enroll in a combination of online and traditional classes. Warren said the blended option is beneficial to those wanting to take an additional class, take a class not offered on campus or enroll in two courses that are offered only at the same time.
Enrollment information for the virtual academy can be found online at sapulpaps.org under the schools tab.
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