Virtual Academy Becomes Reality for Park County School District #1 Using Acellus

The idea for a virtual academy has been in the back of assistant superintendent of teaching and learning Jason Sleep’s mind for a long time, since he was the principal at Powell Middle School.

That idea becomes a reality Friday when the application process opens for Park #1 Virtual Academy.

On that date, prospective students and parents can go to the district’s website at www.pcsd1.org/Park-1-Virtual-Academy and fill out an application. There is no fee to apply or for the academy itself; the program is free to all families.

Applications will be fully reviewed by academy staff to make sure a virtual environment will best suit the pupil. The curriculum is from Acellus, which began as a homeschool program. It now is considered an interactive learning accelerator, melding technology with learning science to make learning more effective, resulting in greater topic mastery in less time. The lessons are delivered through video with multimedia and animation.

As students work through lessons and courses, responses from students are reviewed by academy instructors. The district has staffed the virtual school with an elementary teacher, Andrew Borcher, and three core teachers: Hanson Jordan for secondary math, JoEllen Varian for secondary language arts and English, and Leon Miller for secondary science.

There is also a counselor, DeAnne Jensen, on staff.

“What we learned since the shutdown was some kids need that social and emotional support in a virtual environment,” Sleep said.

Parents will be able to check on their child’s progress with live monitoring, being able to see grades and test scores, when the student logs in and how long they view lessons.

Sleep said Park #1 Virtual Academy is full time for virtual students, but for middle school and high school pupils, there is an opportunity to take in-person electives as well. Those include classes like culinary arts and sports. However, seats for virtual school students in those elective classes will be on a space-available basis.

The academy can provide Chromebook computers and internet hot spots for those who need them — at no charge — so the student can access class work from nearly anywhere.

The cost for setting up and running the virtual academy will come from ESSRII funding, often referred to as CARES Act funding, through the State of Wyoming. The allowable parameters include reaching underserved students — and that is exactly the target audience Sleep has tailored the program for.

“We want to reach kids that aren’t in the Powell system right now,” he said. “We have no desire to take away kids from any other district.”

During an earlier board of trustees discussion on the academy, Superintendent Jay Curtis said the program “works with students who struggle to engage because of social or familial barriers to education, or struggle to engage socially.”

Students from Park, Big Horn, Hot Springs and Washakie counties are eligible to enroll, but seats are limited. The cap — 100 students for now — is meant to ensure each student gets the assistance they need to succeed.

Because the academy is certified by the Wyoming Department of Education, students who complete their high school career in this way are able to graduate from the district with a diploma.

Although applications will begin in May, classes will commence in September.

“We are excited to partner with students and parents who are looking for a new way of learning in a virtual environment,” Sleep said.

The program has two years to become self-sustaining, but there is evidence that will be an easy goal to achieve.

Sleep recounted that when Sheridan County School District 3 opened its virtual school, it was prepared for 50 students — and was floored to have more than 300 access the program.

By Connie Burcham — May 18, 2021 08:20 AM

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