Virtual learning is here to stay: Districts across the region implement online academies for 2021-2022 academic year

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TRI-CITIES, Tenn./Va. (WJHL) – Online learning became a common sight during the pandemic, and although the return to in-person learning is only a few weeks away, some districts across the region have chosen to keep virtual learning in place through new online academies.

For some students and teachers, online learning was a headache, but that wasn’t the case for everyone. Some enjoyed the online learning aspect, but having to constantly switch back and forth between online and in-person is what caused issues. Now, teachers can choose between one or the other in select school districts.

In Bristol, Virginia Public Schools, their district is just one of 17 that make up the Region 7 Virtual Academy that is set to launch this Fall.

“One of the main reasons we chose to create this regional virtual academy was to make sure that we took that burden off of teachers so they don’t have to live in both worlds,” said Bristol Virginia Public Schools Superintendent, Keith Perrigan.

Enrollment is already underway, and those interested are encouraged to apply.

“We’ve been asking our families to enroll now so that we have a better idea of what school’s going to look like when we reopen in the Fall, but we do anticipate even up until the day before school that we’ll have families making those decisions,” said Perrigan.

In Johnson City Schools, the district also has plans for a virtual academy that will run parallel to its in-person school year.

“In grades 5-12, we do have a virtual academy that is opening. We have students who are enrolled, we have teachers who are assigned there, and we’ll be starting very small this first year, but we feel like we are serving a group of parents and a group of students who have not only enjoyed virtual learning but perhaps it has been something that fits their family structure really well,” said Johnson City Schools Supervisor of Secondary and Instructional Technology, Dr. David Timbs.

Timbs said currently the district is making final preparations ahead of the start of school. He said teachers in grades 5-8 will be solely dedicated to virtual instruction, whereas high school instructors will have a mix of teaching in-person half the day and virtually for the other half.

With virtual instruction a common sight this past year, Washington County Tennessee Schools are also following suit.

“We’ve targeted grades 6-12. Prior to COVID, Washington County Schools had a 9-12 virtual program and we sought approval to expand its grade levels down for a full virtual program down to grade 6. So we’ll be providing that virtual option for families grade 6-12,” said Washington County, TN Schools Superintendent, Jerry Boyd.

While some students may have struggled when classes moved to the web, others found inspiration.
“The increased opportunities for virtual learning, can be a really good opportunity for many of our students,” said Perrigan.

The online academies for Bristol Virginia Public Schools, Johnson City Schools, and Washington County Tennessee Schools are all brand new this year so as far as enrollment, officials say they do expect it to be on the smaller side for this pilot year. Their eventual hope is that their programs continue to expand in the years to come.

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