RICHMOND, Va. -- For many parents trying to decide whether to send their children back to school for in-person learning or keep them home for online classes during the COVID-19 pandemic, the choice can be difficult.
But for Latoya Milana, a Richmond mom whose son Trenelle is about to enter eighth grade, that wasn't the case.
"Virtual is the way to go and you got to do your research," Milana said.
Her research led her to Virginia Virtual Academy, a tuition-free online public school program.
It uses the K-12 state standard-based curriculum with state-licensed teachers who tailor lessons to students' needs targeting their strengths and weaknesses, according to the program's website.
That was important to Milana whose son was diagnosed with autism.
"For his needs and the support that they show from the learning coaches is just amazing," she said. "They have been more than successful. He's been thriving. He finished the year a few As, one B, and one C."
Trenelle said the biggest difference has been the program's ability to give him time and progress in his own way.
Virginia Virtual Academy has been open since 2009 but since the pandemic has seen enrollment nearly triple going from 1,800 students last August to over 5,000.
There are also over 4,100 applications still being processed according to its middle school principal Katie Pointdexter.
"We've been preparing for this all summer! I've been interviewing and hiring all summer long to prepare for these students. We have a robust, a wonderful curriculum that's mostly digital, especially for the middle and high schoolers, but it's very interactive as well," she said. "You can do science experiments virtually there's even tiered reading passages so students can select reading passages based on their reading level so it's very interactive. It's not just this kind of sitting in front of the computer clicking through things."
Virginia Virtual Academy is headquartered in Herndon, Virginia, but accepts students from all over the state. All they need is a laptop that has a webcam and WiFi.
They also work with several school districts, including Richmond Public Schools, to help find computers for students who don't have them or internet service through an outside resource to help with the transition to virtual learning.
“They go way above and beyond for their students. I can't rave enough about them," Milana said.
Virginia Virtual Academy is set to begin its 2020-21 school year on September 1. To learn more about enrollment deadlines click here.
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