JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Eighteen seniors are now the first to graduate from the Johnson City Schools Virtual Academy, a totally online school that was first launched in fall 2021.

The seniors walked the stage in a special ceremony Friday at Science Hill High School.

“I am so proud of the seniors,” said Virtual Academy Principal George Laoo. “They have navigated a new platform in alternative learning and have been very successful, we have seniors receiving state honors, state distinction and they have really thrived in this environment.”

From pandemic learning – to everyday learning.

Going to school online is not only becoming the norm for many students, it is their preferred method of attending class.

“I think virtual learning is a wonderful experience and I think every student should try it. There’s life not just at school, there’s life at home, there’s life around you and I think that’s very important to consider,” said graduating senior Caitlin Carson.

Laoo says since its launch last fall, year one has been extremely successful for its 144 virtual students.

“This is different than a lot of virtual schools in the area and it’s different than home school in the fact that we have those live teachers. It’s rigorous and incomparable to in-person learning,” said Laoo.

The teachers bounce between teaching live lessons through the platform and allowing the students to complete self-paced work.

“As a result, we are seeing students that normally don’t participate, participate and speak up and take an ownership and excitement to their learning,” said Laoo.

A lot of students perform better in a virtual platform. For example, students who do not like to speak in class, who have a hard time focusing, those who prefer to work ahead or at their own pace, and even students who simply are not morning people and are more productive in the afternoon.

Carson says while attending class online during the pandemic, she quickly realized she was one of those students.

“There are some kids that are shy, they may get distracted very easily in person. I’m was kind of one of those people, I’m naturally an introvert. It kind of got too much for me,” said Carson. “But by switching virtual I was able to complete homework at my own pace, to do a lot more other things to make my life a lot less stressful.”

Lisa Messimer, who teaches 5th and 6th grade language arts for the Virtual Academy, says she is able to work more closely with students and parents through the platform.

“It just affords a lot of flexibility and I love that about virtual,” said Messimer. “Many of our parents are at home with their students so they are able to hear the lessons, they are able to see what their children are doing. They are there, they are available.”

Messimer says has changed nothing about her teaching style, just the strategies to effectively communicate in her virtual classroom. She sees the benefits firsthand.

“The communication and the feedback that we are able to give to families is for me a big piece of why this is very successful,” said Messimer.

Applications to enroll in the Johnson City Schools Virtual Academy in the fall are open now online.

Any student in grades 5-12 can apply from any school district.

“I would encourage parents that are looking for an alternative placement that gives more of that on-to-one feeling to check us out,” said Laoo.