The Johnson City Virtual Academy is halfway through its inaugural year, and teachers and the 140 students in grades 5-12 are enjoying the experience.
“It’s amazing,” said Lisa Messimer, who teachers 5th and 6th-grade English and Language Arts. “I personally love it.”
While some may be concerned about the relationships students can build with their teachers and peers, Messimer mentioned that in some instances the bonds are stronger.
“I am a firm believer that these relationships can be built in this format. For me personally, it happens in a deeper way than in-person,” she said. “Because if I want to have a child stay after, it’s super easy to do. We can hang out and just talk if we need to.”
The breakdown for instruction is about 50-50 between live instruction and recorded instruction. However, teachers offer drop-in Zoom sessions each day to allow students to ask any questions about their asynchronous work.
There is also an optional study buddy program available at the end of every day for all students.
“We aren’t there to just tutor,” Messimer said. “The kids go into breakout rooms, and they discuss their upcoming assignments and make sure nothing falls through the cracks. It is also a social piece that allows students to interact more than just in class. They really enjoy that.”
The opening of JCVA has allowed the district to diversity the ways that students can learn and not all are related to COVID.
“We have seen a lot of families and students choose the JCVA environment because it fits their needs in a way that in-person instruction cannot, “said David Timbs, Supervisor of Secondary and Instructional Technology. “We feel very fortunate that our Board of Education has supported this initiative and could not be more pleased with student progress and the enthusiasm the teachers have brought to the virtual classrooms.”
However, just because students aren’t in the classroom, that doesn’t mean they aren’t able to complete hands-on activities. At the beginning of each nine weeks, families are asked to pick up hands-on materials for their students to use throughout the nine-week semester in their classes.
Those hands-on experiences, especially in science, have been exciting for the students.
“Even though we are online, our teachers still make it feel like we are in the classroom because we are still able to do hands-on stuff,” Johnson City Virtual Academy 8th-grader Josiah Dickerson said.
Classmate Meadow Harrison agreed.
“I was very shocked by being able to do science experiments at home,” Harrison said.
Harrison also noted the great communication that she has experienced with her teachers.
“It has been really great to be able to communicate well with teachers and them being spot-on with emails,” Harrison said. “You think they wouldn’t be able to do that online, that they’d be too busy. But they do a wonderful job, I am very proud and grateful for my teachers.”
Johnson City Virtual Academy 8th-grader Kaela Didyk spent her elementary years in home school but has enjoyed her virtual experience. Due to her family’s schedule, she spent her first semester attending the Johnson City Virtual Academy while they were living in Costa Rica. Didyk and her family returned ahead of her in-person exams before winter break.
“I am really thankful that they were able to create this, because it’s been so much fun and so much easier to get my school work done,” Didyk said. “I am really enjoying my teachers, and the Zoom experience has been pretty awesome. My teachers really understand me, and they are pretty awesome in general.”
Dickerson said that he has enjoyed working at his own pace. While he spent 5th and 6th grade at Indian Trail, he opted for the virtual route during 7th grade. He and his family enjoyed the experience so much that they decided to join the Johnson City Virtual Academy for 8th grade.
“It has taught me a lot about accountability and being responsible to get my work done,” Dickerson said.
For more information about the Johnson City Virtual Academy, visit VirtualAcademy.jcschools.org or contact the Johnson City Virtual Academy at 423-928-0380.