JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Johnson City Schools are offering a new learning option for students in grades 5th through 12th starting in the fall of 2021.

The school system is introducing an entirely virtual school, the Johnson City Virtual Academy, for students to have the chance to learn outside of a traditional classroom.

The application period is open right now, and school leaders encourage parents to apply early. While the virtual school is a product of years of work and planning, the pandemic accelerated those plans in finally bringing the academy to fruition.

“Students will not be in front of a computer all day. They will really be given a personalized learning path, they will have those live connections with their teachers,” said Dr. David Timbs, supervisor of secondary and instructional technology for Science Hill High School.

After parents, students and teachers got a taste of virtual learning in 2020, Timbs said it was great practice and a chance to work out the kinks everyone experienced learning online.

“Parents who are wondering what this experience will be like, it will not be like this past year. We are really crafting the days at the virtual academy to reflect what true online learning should be, not in the midst of an emergency pandemic,” said Timbs.

The principal for the academy, George Laoo, currently serves as assistant principal at Science Hill. He says opening the school this fall is perfect timing.

“The remote period during the pandemic created that need or highlighted that need to offer a virtual academy,” said Laoo.

He says while remote learning is not for every student, it is a great opportunity for those who have discovered they learn better outside of the classroom.

“We see students who are successful because of small settings, one-to-one instruction,” said Laoo.

Right now around 165 students have applied. With less than two weeks left before the deadline, school leaders are asking those who are interested to apply now so they can start hiring teachers who are eager to get on board.

“We are going to be offering the Johnson City curriculum, by Johnson City teachers. That is one thing we are really proud of,” said Laoo.

School leaders say they were overwhelmed by the amount of teachers who applied to work at the Virtual Academy, which was encouraging.

“By using our own teachers in Johnson City, the quality of what students will receive in our online academy will equal what they will find in an in-person setting,” said Timbs.

As principal, one of Laoo’s top priorities is fostering a unique sense of community.

“We can build relationships even through the screen,” said Laoo.

Applications will be accepted through Friday, April 30th at 3 p.m. Students outside of the Johnson City school district qualify, and can apply. Out-of-district families will pay a tuition rate equal to the current rate for in-person learning at Johnson City schools.

Apply for the academy online at this link.