Branching beyond brick-and-mortar: Upshur Schools’ curriculum to include virtual learning options for 2021-2022 school year

BUCKHANNON – Upshur County Schools has striven to be accommodating to the needs of its students during the worldwide pandemic, and in that vein, the school system recently announced that instructional flexibility will carry through to the 2021-2022 school year.

In a press release issued June 9, Upshur County Schools announced they are working to accommodate all learners through the implementation of virtual learning options for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The release said the option will be offered free of charge to families and will incorporate the Stride K-12-powered school options, which empowers student to learn at their ‘own pace and at their own place.’

“We are partnering with Stride, which is an online curriculum to offer a full virtual option for Upshur County students who would choose that option,” Director of Federal Programs Jody Johnson said Tuesday.

Director of Secondary Curriculum Melinda Stewart said students enrolled in the virtual option for the 2021-2022 school year will still have the option of coming to the school buildings to participate in band or to take an art class.

“There are special interest areas kids sometimes enjoy,” Stewart said. “Even though they are in the virtual school, we will still allow them to attend public school, in a brick-and-mortar school, to attend those classes.”

In addition, sometimes there are content areas parents may prefer their students have a teacher work with the child in-person to complete, Johnson said.

“It could be math or something like that; children could go to the school just to complete one or more of those classes,” Johnson said. “We want to be able to offer all of those we have for the students.”

During Tuesday’s Upshur County Board of Education meeting, members voted to hire Stacy Marteney as the new Virtual Learning Coordinator for the 2021-2022 school year. Marteney will transfer from Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School where she was a special education teacher.

Johnson said the reason Upshur County Schools will be offering this virtual learning option is because of trends in education.

“We realize we have some students now who are graduating from high school and have attended brick-and-mortar schools for learning, but they are going to be enrolling in a college that is completely online,” Johnson said. “They may never step foot on a campus so with the internet and the availability of a quality curriculum, we can allow children to experience an education this way.”

“It works really well for some families, and we have some children who have some opportunities to do some things nationally – this will allow them to still be enrolled with us and participate in those things nationally,” she added.

Johnson said this style of learning will prevent students from feeling ‘stifled’ and enable to take advantage of other opportunities that are offered to them.

“Families and their work schedules are another reason we are offering this option,” Johnson said.

“With the worldwide pandemic, some students have had to step into the work force,” Stewart agreed. “They are helping support their families, and they have become accustomed to the extra income. This option would allow those students to continue to work and complete their graduation requirements online.”

Yet another reason for this virtual learning option is some students suffer from anxiety.

“So, maybe we need to be more flexible about attendance,” Johnson said. “We would love to have all of the students in the buildings and around their peers to have that experience – but education is changing so we have to change right along with it.”

Johnson said with the virtual curriculum, families will receive all the books, curriculum and tools they need – free of cost to the family – from the Stride company.

“Families who are interested in the virtual learning option will meet with us and we will explain the requirements and the type of time demands they will need to prepare for when choosing this option,” Johnson said. “They will need a reliable high speed internet connection because they will have virtual meetings with their Stride teachers once or twice a week depending on the need.”

Stewart added that once a family enrolls their student in the virtual learning option, a box of materials will be shipped to their home.

“When families choose the virtual learning options, we will ask them to make a commitment for at least a full semester so we will know when students are coming in and out,” Johnson said. “That will give us time to get schedules built and time to transition.”

Johnson said there was a pilot program for this system during the 2020-2021 school year.

“We had six students enrolled in the pilot program and they were very successful,” Johnson said. “I think many of them have already signed up for next year to do this again because it worked very well for their families. It is an option we need to have.”

Even though this is currently planned for just the 2021-2022 school year, Johnson said she thinks that virtual learning will remain an option in the years to come.

“I think this will remain an option for years for students and families from now on,” she said. “This offers flexibility and offers the options for students to take classes not offered at B-UHS. There could be foreign languages offered that we do not offer, as well as some other social science classes and higher-level mathematics in a different way.”

Along with the virtual learning curriculum, Upshur County Schools announced that students enrolled in this option will have access to the following:

  • An Upshur County issued iPad to use for the duration of their courses
  • Five-to-seven-day food boxes for students 18 years of age and younger; boxes will be available for pickup weekly at the Tennerton Warehouse
  • A P-EBT card, when available

Student access to extracurricular activities offered by Upshur County Schools, which includes classes offered at the school, sports, band, choir, etc.

At the conclusion of their high school career, upon completing the graduation criteria, students enrolled in the virtual learning option will graduate with a diploma from Buckhannon-Upshur High School.

“We are really excited to be able to offer this and to see it meet the needs of our students and our families,” Johnson said. “We in the Upshur County School System want to change and to adapt to the future of education.”

Those families wishing additional information about this learning option or those who would like to enroll may do so online at www.upshurschools.com to complete the interest survey.

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