Virtual Victories: Keeping students in class and interested in learning


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — In 10 On Your Side’s final installment of Virtual Victories, we celebrate three educators who recognized and addressed two challenges presented by the remote classroom. 

At Wilson High School in Portsmouth, principal Dr. Timothy Johnson took on the problem of low attendance on an administrative level.  

Wilson’s new Attendance Task Force is comprised of reassigned staff who visit the homes of students who are chronically absent. 

“They deliver hot spots, they do everything to make the kids have an opportunity to learn,” Johnson said. “We have ways we can help [students] be successful.” 

Once the task force gets students into the virtual classroom, it’s up to teachers to keep them there. 

He points to social studies teacher Christina Willis as an example of an educator capable of motivating her students to attend class and engage while they’re there.  

“She makes the students responsible for their learning,” Johnson said.  

Willis does that by setting expectations: students have to show up, show their face and participate.  

“The kids catch on really fast and they’ve been really good about trying to log on and trying to participate,” Willis said. “But I know it’s been a challenge for them.” 

That’s why Willis tries to keep kids interested by tying current events, like the pandemic, presidential election and summer of protests, into her lessons. 

“The kids get really excited about that, because that’s something that’s going on now that they can attach to,” she said.  

When interest fails, Willis leans on incentives, offering prizes like pizza delivery and gift cards in a drawing for students who have a good attendance record. 

“It brought out the competitive spirit in them,” she said. “I mean, who wouldn’t want pizza and Chick-fil-A?” 

In Chesapeake, Crestwood Middle School’s Carleton Howell also noticed a dip in attendance and engagement when schools went virtual.  

“One of the first things I did was put every single parent’s number in my cell phone,” Howell said. 

Parents have helped at Howell’s request, urging their children to be in class and turn their cameras on. 

“It’s as close to cloning the classroom experience as possible,” he said. “It’s difficult, but it’s definitely possible to get them to be successful.” 

To view more of 10 On Your Side’s Virtual Victories segments, click here.

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