116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids Community School District is expanding its virtual academy to all K-12 grades, hiring the first principal to oversee the school next year.
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the district’s timeline to make the academy available to all students after offering temporary virtual learning this year. The academy previously was available only to middle and high school students.
New academy Principal Ernie Cox said the virtual school is an example of a “durable model” of education that will continue to grow in part because of the pandemic.
Expanding the Cedar Rapids Virtual Academy provides two learning options to students for the 2021-2022 school year.
Families can choose to enroll their children in traditional in-person learning or in the academy, which is virtual, teacher-led instruction. Students are also able to sign up for activities and sports in their resident school.
The virtual academy is not the same as temporary virtual learning, which many students have been enrolled in throughout the pandemic out of health and safety reasons.
Registration for the virtual academy still is open, but Cox said he expects anywhere between 200 and 400 students.
Virtual academy students will have the opportunity to go on in-person field trips.
“I envision classes going to museums and incorporating that into our school experience, and even go out and serve their community, and learn with other people. That’s a big piece I’m excited about,” Cox said.
The district expects students from across Iowa — maybe in smaller districts that don’t offer virtual learning options — to enroll in its program.
To be successful in this program, students might need a dedicated home learning space and be able to navigate the demands of online learning, such as keeping track of when a teacher will be teaching live, where archived lessons can be found and what assignments need to be done, Cox said.
“Particularly with younger students — Is there someone who will be in the home environment who can help if there is technology or Wi-Fi issues?” Cox said.
The district will work with families to provide a home internet connection if they don’t already have one.
Elementary and middle school students in the virtual academy will have live instruction daily with a teacher and some independent work.
Core subjects as well as art, music and physical education will all be included in the curriculum, Cox said.
High school students will have a variety of options, including advanced placement, world language and other extracurricular classes, Cox said.
“We wouldn’t do this if it wasn’t something we thought was a need or desire in Cedar Rapids,” Cox said.
Next month, the academy will begin to make staffing decisions. Cox said the district is looking forward to engaging teachers in the virtual academy who have found temporary online learning to be “a great experience.”
In addition to leading the academy, Cox will continue his other role as principal at Madison Elementary School. Elementary teachers with the Virtual Academy will have dedicated space at Madison to work, Cox said.
“My home will still be Madison,” Cox said. “This will make life a little more manageable. I’m in classes all day in the building, and next year part of my day will be visiting virtual classes, and seeing how kids are engaging and being present.”
“People want this,” he continued. “They’ve seen it work this year, and our teachers have been difference makers. Having Cedar Rapids teachers design and deliver virtual learning this year has made a great case for how this could work.”
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