As of mid-July, Amherst County Public Schools had 77 students enrolled in the Virtual Virginia online program, the platform in the 2021-22 school year for those who choose not to return to in-person instruction.
The division’s plan is coming off a year where the Amherst Remote Academy, a 100% remote option, drew about 1,600 students, more than third of the overall enrollment, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The rest of the students who did in-person learning in the 2020-21 year had four days of elementary school and a hybrid system of two days in school and two days remote for middle school and high school students.
This year the schools will be back to five days per week and the state program, Virginia Virtual, allows dozens of students to keep their remote status. The division no longer is accepting applications and will pay tuition totaling $146,900 for those students to take part in the program, according to a report given during the Amherst County School Board’s July 15 meeting.
Amherst County High School has 30 students enrolled in Virtual Virginia, Amherst Middle School has 10 and Monelison Middle School has 6. The other 31 students in Virtual Virginia are in Amherst, Madison Heights, Central and Amelon elementary schools.
Seven requests for Virtual Virginia, all at the secondary level, were denied, according to the report. Dana Norman, chief academic officer, said denials were based on students failing two or more core courses or having attendance or behavior issues with the remote format.
Virtual Virginia’s classes begin Aug. 10, eight days before the start of school for in-person instruction.
The board during the meeting also reviewed academic growth performance data from the recently completed 2020-21 year. The presentation gave insight into scores across a variety of grade levels.
“Our elementary students, because they had four days with their teacher, performed better than those kids that were two days and went home two days a week,” Superintendent Rob Arnold said. “That’s why I’m so glad we’re going to get them back five days a week because, I’ve said all along, that’s the right way to go.”
The division is set to receive $7.3 million as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, a federal stimulus package signed into law in March, and at least 20% of the money will need to address academic effects of learning loss during COVID-19.
ACPS will use some of the money to continue measures that include:
Using Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment in areas of reading and math in order to determine students’ growth in learning, as well as developing strategies to close those gaps.
Providing instructional support staff at the elementary levels to assist with small group learning opportunities and targeted skill instruction.
Providing hot spots for students who do not have at-home internet connection in order to provide access to instructional materials and resources outside the school building.
Providing custodial support at all schools to address cleaning and disinfecting schools.
In addition, ACPS also aims to provide supplemental supports to students, staff and principals in the following ways:
Provide reading specialists at each middle school and high school in order to address individual and small group instructional needs for students in the area of reading, as well as support teachers in providing strategies to support academic success and close achievement gaps. Provide an elementary attendance officer to help facilitate and ensure student attendance and compliance for students in grades pre-K through 5.
Provide math specialists at each middle school and high school in order to address individual and small group instructional needs for students in the area of math, as well as support teachers in providing strategies to support academic success and close achievement gaps.
Provide a social worker who will work with students to provide mental, emotional, and physical health supports and assist with issues as they arise. In addition, the social worker may act as a liaison between home and school.
Provide career and technical education (CTE) specialists at each middle school and high school who will facilitate opportunities for students to investigate college or career paths.
Contract additional day treatment slots to support student social, emotional and behavior needs.
In another matter, the board discussed adding a second meeting each month to give more time to review school issues. The board, which meets once per month, formally decided to have a practice where a second meeting will be added a month if deemed necessary.