Philadelphia Virtual Academy provides educational alternative
At the Philadelphia Virtual Academy, principal Dave Anderson said, some blended learning — a combination of classroom instruction and online skill-building — is taking place, but because it is a cyber school, the greater emphasis has been on computer-based learning.
Anderson, who has been the school’s leader since its inception in the fall of 2013, noted that the school, featuring grades 6-12, has programs with the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Pennsylvania Ballet, and other cultural institutions to encourage interaction with each other and instructors.
Anderson said officials want the Virtual Academy to be on par with brick-and-mortar schools in terms of student interaction.
“We want students to go on field trips. We want them to attend the prom, dances, and student activities,” he said.
The academy, with offices at District headquarters, has seen a surge in enrollment since it opened. There were 65 students enrolled when the academy was launched, Anderson said. Enrollment grew to 300 during the 2013-14 school year. Current enrollment is about 500, he said.
The number of students fluctuates during the school year, Anderson said. He noted that the academy takes new students throughout the year, while many of the District’s selective admission schools do not.
“There are not a lot of transfer options for students in Philadelphia,” Anderson said.
“There is a lot of transition.”
The school currently has 18 teachers for core subjects, up from only six last year due to an increase in enrollment, Anderson said. There are five teaching assistants who serve as go-betweens with the students, teachers, parents, and administration.
The teachers teach live classes online, which are also recorded and archived for students to use later, if necessary, said Anderson. There is also a “virtual office” open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., where students can reach out to teachers, teaching assistants and tech support staff for one-on-one instruction, he said.
Many of the academy’s students come to the school to avoid bullying or move away from bad influences at their previous schools, he said, adding that some parents want to keep their children home where they can be watched more closely.
Anderson said the Virtual Academy is simply meeting a demand as more students seek cyber schools.
“We’re recognizing that students are in cyber schools, and if they are going to be in cyber schools, let’s get them in our cyber schools.”