How to create a virtual online learning academy

During spring distance learning, not all students were able to interact sufficiently with teachers

Darlington County School District in rural South Carolina saw an overwhelming response when educators there launched a virtual academy to enhance online learning this school year.

During spring distance learning, not all students were able to interact sufficiently with teachers, says Carla Jefferson, director of the virtual academy.

Administrators were concerned that, heading in 2020-21, some students might leave the Title I district for homeschooling or other virtual schools despite Darlington County’s three-year-old 1-to-1 program.

“After COVID hit, we felt like we did a fairly good job of proving access, resources and support to students,” Jefferson says. “Coming back, we knew parents would be apprehensive about sending children to school.”

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Jefferson and her team spent the summer providing professional development for teachers and designing the virtual academy, which opened in late August.

About 130 teachers—using a vacated elementary as one of their bases for delivering online learning—are now holding synchronous classes on a schedule that mimics a regular school day.

Time has been carved out for teachers to meet one-on-one with students and conduct small group instruction. They will use data to determine which students are most in need of interventions, Jefferson says.

They will assign offline and independent work, which should also allow students to demonstrate learning through arts, coding and other more creative methods.

“We cannot expect students to stare at a screen for six to eight hours a day,” says Jefferson.

See more stories in our series on online learning innovations:

  1. How virtual wellness shifts SEL online
  2. Online SEL success relies on making connections
  3. Get access to doing something new during COVID
  4. 5 stories of online learning innovations during COVID
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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