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Sept. 23, 2021

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Clark County school districts: Remote learning options are here to stay

Virtual options to be available even after pandemic

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
2 Photos
Kindergarten teacher Katie Plamondon, from left, leads students Phoenix Winmil, 5, Wes Charuchinda, 5, Emery Thomas, 6, and Jay Chou, 6, into the building for their second day of classes at Sifton Elementary School last Sept. 22. Smaller districts are exploring permanent remote options for families who choose them.
Kindergarten teacher Katie Plamondon, from left, leads students Phoenix Winmil, 5, Wes Charuchinda, 5, Emery Thomas, 6, and Jay Chou, 6, into the building for their second day of classes at Sifton Elementary School last Sept. 22. Smaller districts are exploring permanent remote options for families who choose them. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian files) Photo Gallery

The new way forward in the fast-growing Ridgefield School District now includes the power of online curriculum.

During a topsy-turvy 2020-21, administrators at Clark County’s fifth-largest district planned, created and will soon launch a virtual learning option for Ridgefield families seeking choice and flexibility moving forward after a pandemic-riddled school year.

While “Ridgefield Remote” served as the vehicle to schooling during COVID-19, the newly formed Wisdom Ridge Academy opening this fall is a gateway for possibilities through clicks on a Chromebook.

“This is something going forward we need to have as an option for students in the district,” Superintendent Nathan McCann said. “We have to make sure we have a full suite of options and opportunities for kids.”

Online learning is here to stay, thanks in part to virtual academies popping up at Clark County districts. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction announced in May that all K-12 public schools will return to full in-person learning in the fall, which means districts are doing away with remote learning options and pushing forward by planning for in-person instruction five days a week.

But because of alternative programs, online learning won’t entirely disappear. Educators point to a variety of reasons to keep remote options long past the pandemic. Some students are more successful through digital platforms, and others benefit from the flexibility online schooling provides.

New Camas Connect Academy Principal Daniel Huld has spent his entire career in alternative education, including the past 11 years implementing virtual schooling at the Baker (Ore.) School District’s charter schools. Based on his experiences in Oregon, Huld estimates that 3 percent to 5 percent of Clark County families crave a fully online learning model. He’s already planning to boost offerings through the power of online curriculum — and eventually create hybrid options — to “build something that will be really special,” he said, for area families at Camas Connect. For Year 2, the all-online option expands to all grades.

“COVID provided a great opportunity for schools and for everybody to re-evaluate ‘How does all this work?’” Huld said. “It’s a great opportunity for education to see that online learning really can work.”

Larger districts

Clark County’s three largest districts — Evergreen, Vancouver and Battle Ground — recommend their alternative programs already in place pre-pandemic for families who prefer an online-only instructional model. That includes options such as River HomeLink and Summit View in Battle Ground or Vancouver’s Virtual Academy. At Evergreen, it’s Home Choice Academy (grades K-8) and Legacy High School (9-12).

McCann believes the new option in Ridgefield is a win-win for the district’s future serving families whose desires include flexibility. Students’ learning options at Wisdom Ridge include an all-virtual model with weekly and monthly check-ins or up to twice-a-week on-campus sessions with supervision and academic support by Ridgefield teachers.

The pandemic sped up the process to provide an alternative in time to open this fall at 5645 S. 11th St. in Ridgefield.

District leaders say their main component to success is having a dual partnership with families.

“It’s going to be an expected part of it,” said Tony Smith, principal of Ridgefield’s View Ridge Middle School. “Parents are educators as well. Having the co-educator in the picture is a whole different equation.”

Like Camas, other smaller districts launched virtual academies last August in response to COVID-19.

Washougal Learning Academy is in preparations for its second year, and enrollment isn’t the only thing expected to grow, said WLA Principal Jason Foster. It served more than 100 students in grades K-8 in 2020-21, and Foster anticipates more growth now that the district has gained approval to serve students out-of-district. With that comes building on their learning models they expanded on mid-school year and work bettering the educational experience now that a full school year is under their belts.

“We want to continue to grow the number of supplemental supports we have for students,” Foster said, “and make sure we can hit as much growth and as many student learning styles as possible so we’re not leaving anyone behind.”

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