Buhler, Hutchinson and Nickerson School Districts make virtual education a reality for the long term using Acellus

Virtual learning is commonplace nowadays due to COVID-19 and the increase in online teaching. But six years ago, this form of learning was less commonplace.

That is when the Nickerson School district started their Virtual School Central State Academy. With 70 students, the school, which teaches kindergarten through grade 12, continues to grow.

Next year, Hutchinson and Buhler schools will begin their own K-12 virtual schools. Buhler is starting off slowly, with less than 20 students enrolled. While Hutchinson is expecting between 50 and 75 students at the Hutchinson Virtual School this fall.

“(We) hope to have more interest as we continue to push out information to our families and the community,” said Marissa Meis, a spokesperson for Hutchinson Schools.

Both Buhler and Hutchinson will have both in-person and virtual aspects, including in-person meetings. All the schools assign a specific person to help facilitate learning – at Hutchinson Schools, they call this person the learning coach.

All three schools use Acellus, a learning program that uses videos to teach. The videos feature teachers from Acellus. This same curriculum and these same teachers are teaching students, via a recorded video, all across the U.S.

If students have difficulties with these learning programs, they can contact their respective virtual school.

“For most kids they need to be in school,” said Tracey File, the principal of Nickerson’s virtual school.

File said Nickerson is careful as to whom they accept into their virtual school. They meet with both the parents and the students, explaining the student must attend all their classes and complete all their assignments. But, she said, for some this (virtual school) is a great fit.

Buhler’s superintendent, Cindy Couchman agrees, “They have to answer some questions about why is virtual for you. Why do you want to be virtual? You may have to go back into brick and mortar if this does not work out.”

Erica Shook, Buhler’s Ad Astra Virtual Academy director wants to make sure Buhler’s program is personal and the students feel connected.

”Our academy students may be virtual, but we will still ensure they have an exceptional educational experience with USD 313,” Shook said. “As with our building students, that includes educational experiences outside the classroom.”

Shook, an English teacher and department chair, will incorporate on service-learning, project-based learning, and equity-centered design thinking projects.

“Beyond the traditional school curriculum offerings, our academy programming includes opportunities for elementary students to learn a foreign language or ecology or engineering,” Shook said.

High school students can take American Sign Language, cybersecurity and plumbing online at all the schools.

Credit hours and graduation

Nickerson’s virtual school requires fewer credit hours to graduate than their in-person high school does. As for Buhler, Shook said, “With administrative approval, students could graduate with fewer credits, but that will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.”

File, Nickerson’s principal, said she tries to keep students in their own districts, saying she is not advertising in Hutchinson. However, the district placed a billboard off the highway in Wichita, going after USD 259’s students.

“There are certain situations where kids need to be virtual,” Couchman said. “It’s not for everybody. Our goal is to meet the needs of the kids.”

By Alice Mannette — May 20, 2021 02:19 PM

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