In the midst of National Charter Schools Week, the Center for Education Reform held its latest series episode, “Virtual Education Saves the Day,” featuring Center for Education Reform’s Jeanne Allen, Mark Allen of Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School, Brazilia Bilal-Page of Georgia Connections Academy and Kevin Chavous of Stride, Inc. With such a powerhouse panel of education leaders, we heard about issues ranging from social-emotional learning to how districts who were ill-prepared for online learning fared during the pandemic compared to their full-time virtual counterparts.
On the issue of social-emotional learning, Ms. Bilal-Page notes that the key to developing social-emotional learning rests with ensuring relationship building between teachers and learners. So long as those children can point to their administrators as sympathetic peers, that social-emotional learning will happen effectively, whether or not that child is physically sitting in a classroom.
Mr. Chavous believes the COVID-19 pandemic allowed for a reset in perceptions surrounding full-time virtual schools, in that these schools served as assets while many districts were scrambling to work out effective online curriculum. Teacher training also proved to be pivotally important as to whether or not curriculum was successfully delivered. Full-time virtual schools have had years, if not decades, to hone this curriculum and tailor the training to bolster teacher effectiveness.
Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School’s Mark Allen described his school’s offers to provide guidance, helping neighboring districts as they navigated the newness of online learning. While not many districts and schools took up their offer, he believes this sort of inclusive approach to informing traditional school districts of the advantages of online learning was the right thing to do for students.
This seminar gave us food for thought on issues related to hesitancy surrounding the virtual option, and how school leaders have fought back against these false perceptions. COVID-19 certainly brought this to the forefront, as traditional districts were forced to make due with online learning – often in an abrupt time frame.
Mark Allen had spoken to many who believed that as soon as the pandemic ended, their school’s spike in enrollment would plummet. He was told the majority of their students would return to brick and mortar schools. According to Allen, that has not happened.