Online school enrollment increases over the years due to the pandemic
Nationally, the number of students enrolled in virtual schools increased by 34,600 students between 2017-2018 and 2019-2020, according to the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado. In 2019-20, there were 477 full-time virtual schools serving 332,379 students.
There are nine statewide e-learning school options where students can live anywhere in the state and enroll, including Ohio Connections Academy (OCA) which serves students from kindergarten to grade 12 and has more than 180 teachers.
OCA is similar to an in-person public school, giving state tests, following the same regulations, having a full-service high school with AP classes and opportunities to participate in College Credit Plus and vocational technical training , according to Superintendent Marie Hanna.
The academy had 5,837 students enrolled in the 2021-22 school year, including 82 from Clark County and 28 from Champaign County. Enrollment has increased since the pandemic and the closure of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) in 2018, when enrollment was around 3,500 students.
“We don’t want to grow faster than we can educate students. We need to stop enrollment when we feel we cannot train enough teachers and they are ready to serve these children. Our goal is to grow but also to serve students well,” Hanna said.
When it comes to choosing online learning over in-person learning, Brian Yontz, chair and associate professor of education at the University of Wittenberg, said you can’t really “do studies comparatives due to the complexity of the pandemic, the high frequency of students changing modalities, and the genuine lack of relevant data.
Yontz said many families have found virtual learning to be the best option for their children, especially during a public health crisis, but it’s clear the learning loss has happened as schools pivot. during the pandemic.
“Teaching and learning is fundamentally a social experience and the social and emotional development of students might be the most important thing we do in schools,” he said. “Having said that, I think we’re getting better at meeting those needs through virtual offerings…and we’re improving enrollment that way.”
Victoria Parris, a mother from Springfield who has four daughters – Va’Laurie, a 14-year-old ninth grader; Vanessa, a 12-year-old sixth-grader; Vivienne, a nine-year-old fourth grader; and Va’Lynzia, a seven-year-old first-grader at OCA decided shortly before the coronavirus pandemic that she wanted to pull them out of traditional in-person private school and enroll them in public school in line.
Shortly after making that decision, her daughters came home in March 2020 and told her about the “extended spring break” many in-person schools were taking due to the pandemic.
“I felt that God had given them the preamble of what virtual learning was going to look like… My girls were already mentally prepared for virtual school, and they started to prepare to be at home, including changing a room in my house to be a classroom with four desks, four chairs and two lockers,” Parris said.
Hanna said parental involvement and engagement are important roles of the school environment. She said parents, called learning coaches, have 24/7 access to everything they need. “Parents play an important role in the process. Family engagement is a very important part of the whole engagement process,” she said.
The children of Parris said they love attending OCA, especially with the flexibility, various programs, different opportunities, teacher support and resources.
OCA K-2 assistant principal Mindy Pyle, who has taught all grade levels in her 16 years at the academy, said building relationships virtually is a unique way to get to know children. “I think there’s a misconception that teachers don’t know the student in online learning…we all work together, engage with parents, and build relationships,” a- she declared.
“They are one click away from accessing their teachings in multiple ways. Home learning coaches help guide children and teachers help them with specific content… We make sure children get the support they need both academically and emotionally… There’s always someone to talk to because we’re not limited to lesson times or the structure of a typical school day,” Plye added.