SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Most students will be back in the classroom next week in Suffolk, but some will still be logging on from their computers this school year with SPS Online.
The Suffolk-specific program provides another option for parents looking to keep their students at home this school year as coronavirus cases of the delta variant continue to rise.
This comes as Virtual Virginia filled up pretty quickly over the summer, before the most recent surge in cases.
District Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III says SPS Online looks to solve present and future virtual learning problems.
“With the increases in the delta variant, we’ve had more families and students that have wanted to take that option. So we wanted to make sure that we were going to have some of our SPS staff be involved in our virtual model,” he said.
SPS Online is different from Virtual Virginia, the statewide virtual learning option. The program uses a mix of Suffolk teachers and others from contracted virtual learning systems.
“We basically have designated one teacher at each grade level in the elementary and then we have teachers at the secondary level that have specific or designated periods where they’re teaching the virtual students,” he explained.
SPS Online uses three programs: Proximity Learning, Edgenuity and the universal program used throughout the state – Canvas.
Chief Academic Officer Dr. Okema Branch says this approach allows for other contracted learning systems to supplement and support areas they can’t.
“We don’t have enough staff to teach in both platforms, face-to-face and virtually every day for all the content areas, so we do use those other technological platforms,” she said.
Even though students log on for class, the schedule, attendance and participation rules mirror those from in the classroom.
“We are treating everything as if you are in that face-to-face, brick and mortar building,” said Dr. Gordon. “It just so happens that we’re doing it on the screen. And it’s going to be the same expectation for our face-to-face kids as well.”
All students in the districts have chrome books. Still, staff say they quickly discovered inequities they had to address over the last year.
“In some of those dead areas or areas where there’s a weaker broadband, we needed to provide Kajeet devices, which is a hotspot device,” said Dr. Branch. “So we were able to get those out to over a thousand students.”
Administrators say it’s been a long road before they found a cohesive rollout for SPS Online, one filled with tweaking and adjusting.
“We not only asked our staff but we asked students and parents to provide us feedback,” said Dr. Branch. “That feedback helped us to drive the rest of our planning for the remainder of the year. We made tweaks immediately. We had to pivot.”
The long-term motivations for the development of the program, however, has remained consistent.
“We actually anticipate we’ll always have some form of virtual learning going forward,” she said. “It is an option for people now, but it may be a staple in what we do.”
SPS Online is currently filled, but staff say there is a waitlist for families interested in moving their child to the virtual learning option.
Administrators say they’ll look at making adjustments to their virtual capacity every nine weeks to gradually add more students.
Learn more about the program and how you can request to get put on it here.