Many states are taking notice of New Hampshire’s successful online K-12 school, the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (VLACS). Several attributes make it stand out from other online K-12 options: strong student-teacher relationships, a focus on competency, personalized instruction, and the unique way the state funds the school, according to The Hetchinger Report. By emphasizing student-teacher relationships, it makes students feel like they matter. At VLACS, the administration and teachers don’t just treat kids like a number–they take time to get to know them and their parents:
“We talk with every new student and the parents,” said VLACS physical education and wellness teacher Lisa Kent, interviewed at her home in Amherst, New Hampshire. During these introductory sessions, by phone or web chat, Kent explains course logistics — for example, how she and the student will meet (virtually) at least once a month and how to upload weekly assignments.
A week later, there’s a follow-up call. “That’s when I ask students why they’re taking my course, and what their goals are,” said Kent… “Being ever present is paramount to building that working relationship,” she said. “Students need to know you’re there, seeing what they do, and that you care about and support them.”
Those relationships also help teachers connect with their students and bring kids’ interests and passions into the classroom, just like a traditional brick-and-mortar school. The focus on subject mastery–rather than seat time–suits the online model in similar ways as the traditional school, too. Students move on through a course when they prove they’ve learned the previous subject material, allowing them more time with difficult concepts and not dwelling on things they’ve already shown they know. Taken together, the teachers agree it’s a recipe for success:
“Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the capacity of every learner to excel when you let them approach a subject through their interests at a pace and style that suits them,” said Bramante, who began her career in the 1970s as a middle school English teacher.
When it comes to working together, the partnership between VLACS, the state, and traditional schools are strong. Districts don’t get penalized if their students take one, a few, or all of their courses online through VLACS. It makes sure that VLACS and schools are working together, not competing for scarce funds.
And, VLACS gets paid for performance: courses are divided into competencies, and VLACS gets a a prorated sum for the ones the student has mastered. If a student only completes half the course, VLACS gets half of the money. It places the incentive on learning and teaching over stacking enrollment lists.
The performance-based, personalized approach to online learning has culminated into one of the few really successful web-based K-12 schools in the country. And it’s gaining attention.
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