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Spotlight

Learning via NC Virtual Public School is a positive, personal, productive experience

Posted May 29, 2020 5:00 a.m. EDT

Over the past few years, enrollment in online classes has been steadily rising, thanks in large part to the convenience and accessibility virtual learning offers. (Ermolaev Alexander/Shutterstock.com)

This article was written for our sponsor, the North Carolina Virtual Public School.

Recently, remote learning has seen a boost in popularity, and not just due to the pivot caused by the coronavirus. Over the past few years, enrollment in online classes has been steadily rising, thanks in large part to the convenience and accessibility virtual learning offers.

That isn't to say, however, the experience doesn't come with its fair share of challenges. With a screen separating students from teachers, direction and communication can be difficult.

For the staff at the North Carolina Virtual Public School, breaking down barriers to online learning has always been a priority. Since 2007, the online program has worked with schools across the state to provide supplemental courses in a variety of topics. With an emphasis on personalization and productivity, the program serves as a model for what a successful virtual learning experience looks like.

"There are lots of online learning options out there that do not have the same teacher-led model that N.C. Virtual uses. We truly believe that good instruction requires an outstanding teacher," said Rachel McBroom, the chief learning officer at NCVPS. "You also need an excellent, high-quality course, but we don't believe that putting a student in an online course and letting the technology move that child through is effective. We truly believe there has to be a licensed teacher present and guiding each student through, giving them feedback, developing relationships with them and helping them, much like they would get in a face-to-face classroom."

Through NCVPS, students are able to take required classes, advanced placement courses, electives, career and technical, world languages and more, no matter what their ZIP code might be. For students who attend schools with limited resources, NCVPS can significantly extend the courses available to them.

"My regular school doesn't have a wide variety of classes since it's small," said Istar Abdullahi, a student enrolled in NCVPS courses. "The first class that I took with NCVPS was French, but my school didn't offer that as an in-person class. I was honestly terrified to take a class online, but my experience with French went really well, so I thought, why not give it another try?"

After completing French, Abdullahi enrolled in another NCVPS course her school didn't offer: AP Computer Science. In both classes, Abdullahi has taken advantage of the resources and tools offered by NCVPS. The Culture Cafe, a free NCVPS webinar series open to everyone, allowed her to gain a better grasp on French culture — not to mention a virtual visit to the Eiffel Tower — and the peer tutoring center has been instrumental in breaking down the complexities of her current AP class.

But for Abdullahi, she largely credits her success in the program to the communication and support her instructors have provided.

"Right now, my computer science teacher gave us her phone number and a personal number to contact her whenever we need help during her office hours. I've sent a lot of text messages throughout the year when I was struggling, because it's a very hard class. Whenever I text her, she sends me links and different resources that help me figure out whatever problem I'm having," Abdullahi said. "She also talks to my dad when she sends the grades, as well. Whenever I'm struggling, she tells him not to worry, because she knows how difficult the class can be."

Parental communication like this is a trademark of NCVPS, and each instructor tailors the communication method based on what works best for the family — some receive phone calls, some texts and some written letters. No matter the medium, the instructors strive to provide clear and consistent communication to both students and their parents or guardians.

Abdullahi's experience with foreign languages and AP courses certainly makes up a large percentage of the enrollment at NCVPS, but it's only a drop in the bucket of what the program offers. For students who are struggling to pass classes required for graduation, the new Intervention Co-Teaching Program has seen massive success for those enrolled.

"Intervention courses are based on a co-teaching model and are offered for a handful of core courses that are graduation requirements, but have typically been barriers to success for graduation," McBroom explained. "We pair up a content teacher at the school and one of our content teachers, then our content teacher modifies and personalizes the instruction and assignments for those students."

Bladen County was one of the first to use the intervention program, and since implementing the program, McBroom has heard high praises from Superintendent Robert Taylor, who asserts it has helped improve the school's graduation rates for students who would have likely not otherwise met the requirements.

For McBroom, the intervention program perfectly summarizes the all-encompassing mission of NCVPS.

"We absolutely do provide opportunities for high-achieving students across the state that might not otherwise have them, but we also cover the spectrum," she said. "We have something for everybody — no matter where they might fall in their class rank. That can help them be successful and meet goals that they've set."

For students like Abdullahi, NCVPS offers more than just an extended course curriculum. The program is also helping her gain leadership experience and accolades for a future college application.

"I actually started volunteering at the tutoring center, so I'm getting volunteer hours, and I'm also working as the marketing lead for NCVPS, where I'm making a lot of marketing tools for the program," Abdullahi said. "I liked my classes, and the program also offered me an opportunity to volunteer and a leadership role, so there are a lot of benefits that come with it aside from just the classes."

While NCVPS already boasts an impressive offering of tools and resources, they're always looking for ways to continue pursuing their mission of accessibility. Moving forward, McBroom and the rest of the NCVPS team will expand the program to include middle school core classes this fall, all while staying centered on their guiding principle of personalization.

"We have some middle school electives, and we've had some middle school students take some high school courses, but there's a big difference between middle schoolers and high schoolers. But across the state, we have folks telling us that they're ready for it; they need it and are struggling to find teachers to fit the demand," McBroom said. "We're excited to roll out those courses and then to further build out the middle school program to be able to support our partners across the state, all while trying to expand our ability to personalize learning for each individual student."

This article was written for our sponsor, the North Carolina Virtual Public School.

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