BUCKHANNON – When school starts this fall, all Upshur County students will spend at least part of the week learning either virtually or remotely, at home or at WiFi access points located throughout the county.
Any student can also choose to attend school entirely online — Virtual School follows the same content standards as in-person school, and students can opt in or out at any time. They can even take some classes, like band, in-person, and can participate in extra-curriculars like sports.
In an effort to make the transition to online learning easier, Upshur County Board of Education members voted to hire a Virtual Learning Coordinator and selected local educator Jennifer Drake to fill the position.
Drake grew up in Buckhannon and graduated from Buckhannon-Upshur High School before earning her BA in elementary education and a M.Ed. in special education from West Virginia Wesleyan College. She began her teaching career in Upshur County.
After completing her certification in educational leadership from Salem University in 2018, she began teaching again, having taught in every programmatic level of Pre-K through 12th grade. She has taught both general and special education students throughout her career.
Drake said the Virtual Learning Coordinator is responsible for ensuring students receive positive, thorough instruction while outside of the school building.
“This involves working with teachers, principals and both county and state officials,” Drake said. “I am here to help answer questions from parents and mentor student progress through the program.”
Upshur County Schools is dedicated to remaining flexible and is working to transition back into brick and mortar schools as they feel confident to do so.
“We will work with families who have special circumstances, such as students with 504 Plans or IEPs,” Drake said. “Additionally, we are allowing a mixed virtual learning experience, enabling students to attend some courses online and some in-person if they choose to do so.”
So, why did Drake decide to apply for this position?
“First and foremost, my desire is to foster a love of learning and a positive environment for our community’s kids,” she said. “This has been the leading factor in my career choices from the beginning. Where I have had the opportunity to impact students within my classrooms over the years, this position allows me to fulfill this goal on a larger scale, providing as much support as I can during these challenging times.”
She said she has an open personality and possesses a drive to find answers.
“Even if I do not know those answers immediately, it will help me tremendously in this position,” Drake said. “We are living in a world of unknown. My plan is to create an environment where there are brain connections and relationship connections, despite the distance a virtual learning experience comes with.”
Drake explained the difference between virtual and remote learning.
“Remote learning is what takes place on days students are not in the school building,” she said. “With our current plan for the first nine weeks in Upshur County, students will be in the school building two days a week and complete assignments provided by their teachers three days a week while at home. With Virtual Learning, students complete five days of online instruction which follow content standards based on their courses and are graded by teachers, but they complete this work while outside of the school building.”
Drake said she does see some advantages of virtual learning.
“Technology gives us the opportunity to be more flexible while continuing to grow academically,” she said. “The Virtual Learning option provides families an option during the pandemic. Many of our students are raised by their grandparents or have grandparents and other high-risk loved ones who play a large role in their lives. Families, if they choose to limit exposure to other people, now have that chance.
“Plus, with all students in Upshur County receiving an iPad beginning this school year, students will be able to learn and explore the many options this technology provides.”
When students are sitting down to do their virtual learning, Drake offers the following tips to make sure they are ready:
- Be sure it is a time when the child is not hungry or tired.
- Take breaks as needed. It is okay to split learning times up.
- Communicate with your child’s teacher. They are there to provide academic support and want to help in any areas the child may need it.
- Do not forget to have your child writing and creating. Though Virtual Learning focuses on learning by using technology, children still need to maintain their fine motor skills through using pencils, crayons, markers and scissors.
- Set expectations with your child before you begin: time or day, television off, when breaks will occur.
- Find a space for your child to work that is not their usual ‘play’ space. Sitting at a table or in a designated area for study will help children get in the mode for learning.
Drake said that multiple studies have shown those adults who are most resilient and well-adapted had grown up with at least one caring adult in their lives.
“Upshur County Schools’ goal is to ensure that each of our children have just that,” Drake said. “We want our students well educated, well loved and prepared for expanding their futures.”
Finally, Drake shared a list of things she feels students and parents/guardians need to know about virtual learning:
-Virtual learning is flexible and can be completed around a schedule that works best for students and parents.
-The content in the program follows the West Virginia Content Standards set forth by the state and will be graded as if students were completing the work within the physical classroom.
-Students can return to brick and mortar school at any time the parent wishes. They do not need to wait until the quarter or semester is finished.
-Students will be guaranteed a place back at their home school. Student placement within a classroom could vary depending on enrollment within the grade level.
-There is no cost to families.
-Children can mix between brick and mortar and virtual. If there is a class the student would prefer to take in person (special education, band, art, even reading if they need assistance) they can. This option is personalized for each student.
-Virtual students will be permitted to participate in extracurricular activities such as sports or clubs.
-Students with 504 Plans or IEPs will be accommodated. A meeting will be held to determine necessary accommodations or modifications to help students become successful.
-All students will receive an iPad. Information on distribution is to come.
-The virtual program is online and you will need access to the internet.
-All virtual teachers hold an appropriate West Virginia teaching certificate. We will place students with Upshur County teachers when possible.
-Grades will be taken and counted through virtual classroom assignments.
-Upshur County facilitators will maintain contact and support. These are minimum contact requirements and can be increased based on student needs. Contacts can be made by telephone; email; virtually; or in person, if possible.
- K-2: Three contacts per week
- Grades 3-8: Two contacts per week
- Grades 9-12: One contact per week
-Virtual students will be provided weekly meals which will be available for pick-up at families’ closest schools. If children are in multiple schools, families will only need to go to the closest school to get meals for all of their children. EBT cards, if they are available, will be provided to students during virtual school as well.
-High school students will still receive credits for graduation within the program.
-Link to enroll is located on the county website: www.upshurschools.com
Parents can contact Drake through email at email@example.com or by calling Upshur County Board of Education at 304-472-5480.