Lakota Launches Unique Virtual Learning Option

Lakota Launches Unique Virtual Learning Option
Posted on 08/24/2020
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vlo photo collageOne in four Lakota students are starting their school year as part of the Virtual Learning Option (VLO), setting up their classrooms in home offices, kitchens and even in an RV during travels out West.

“We knew that many of our families would not have been able to have their child return to school in the fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction Keith Koehne. That’s why Lakota began the massive undertaking to develop this unique 100-percent online K-12 education option for families.

This summer some of Lakota’s best teachers worked with the curriculum team to design the best courses possible. “No one else is doing something like this,” continued Koehne. “Most go out and purchase third party software. Our VLO is tied directly to district resources and Lakota curriculum.”

Krista Heidenreich, Director of Digital Learning and Professional Learning added, “Our families are also excited that VLO students will stay connected to their home schools.” A partnership between the VLO and school principals works to maintain this connection. Students receive communications from their home school, can participate in extracurriculars, and can even get their school pictures taken and be part of the yearbook. Whenever possible, students have a VLO teacher from their home school.

Lakota originally set a July 20 deadline to sign up for VLO to allow for staffing, scheduling and other logistics. But that deadline was extended several times to accommodate families struggling to make the best decision for their individual situation. “In the end, our goal is to do what is in the best interest of our families and students,” said Koehne. From July 20 to the final deadline of August 20, the number of VLO students went from over 3000 to over 4000.

VLO students in grades K-6 are taught the core curriculum, as well as gym, music, art and technology specials. VLO also offers advanced classes, ESL services and special services (as deemed appropriate by the IEP/504 teams). With the VLO numbers increasing so dramatically, scheduling has been challenging, especially for students in grades 7-12. But in the end, students were able enroll in the majority of classes they requested. Some classes are just difficult to do virtually – like band, choir, and hands-on engineering classes.

“Parents have been very understanding that we all need to do what is best for the kids,” said Heidenreich. “It looks different for every family and everyone has been working together to make adjustments to give students the best solution possible.”

Lakota has collaborated with Hilliard City Schools to develop a K-6 curriculum this summer and that partnership will continue into the future, centering on curriculum and best practices.

Lakota teachers teamed with the curriculum department to build out all K-6 core courses and 30 model courses for grades 7-12. Teachers developed the content and innovation specialists built it out in the Seesaw (K-2) and Canvas (grades 3-12) online learning environments.

All teachers (both in-school and VLO) have access to the newly-developed online courses. “The courses will be invaluable resources for a first-year teacher or a someone new to teaching a course – giving them the ability to see just how Lakota’s best teachers would go about teaching the class,” said Koehne.

In-school teachers will also be able to use the online content as a supplement to face-to-face instruction, giving them more time to spend on more individualized instruction. The robust curriculum and resources are also readily available should there be a need to move to all remote learning.

VLO will include both synchronous (meet in real-time with the teacher) and asynchronous (online at own pace) opportunities; the amount of each will depend on the grade level. There will be more computer time as students get older but the goal is not to have students in front of a computer all day long. Students will be expected to log in each day for attendance purposes but, especially older students, will have more flexibility in their school day.

The number of students participating in the VLO is fairly consistent across all grade levels. Chromebooks are provided for all 7-12 students per Lakota’s 1:1 ‘We Are Empowered’ initiative. K-6 provide their own technology, but schools can provide laptop and internet assistance when needed. VLO class size depends on the age of the students and content being taught; however, virtual classes are typically a little larger than traditional, in-person classes.

VLO will be offered for the entire 2020-2021 school year, and the district will reassess the program at the end of the year.

Lakota offered families informational webinars, parent information nights, and videos on what it would be like to be a VLO student at each grade level. “Everyone wanted to know what it would look like, and now that the VLO has officially launched, we can now see exactly how it looks and how it works,” said Heidenreich. She is personally excited about the initial results given the timeline and sheer size of the task to develop the VLO.

VLO Bulletins are sent out regularly, and even includes tips from VLO families on topics like organizing your workspace. “This is the first time we’ve done this, so it’s a learning curve for everyone,” said Heidenreich. Lakota sent out a survey to VLO families to find out how the first week went, and will use feedback like this to continually tweak the program. “The feedback so far has been really great, and we will continue to keep doing what’s best for kids.”

Click here to visit Lakota’s VLO website for more information.