Washougal School District leaders are ready and willing to welcome students back into classrooms, but are prepared for the possibility that not every child will want to return.
“I honestly think there’s going to be a number of students that never come back,” James Bennett, the district’s technology coach, said recently. “You’ve got a family that’s thinking, ‘I’m kind of interested in this home-schooling model, but I’m not sure if I’m comfortable with it,’ but when they have this trial by fire, they’re like, ‘Maybe that’s not so bad. Maybe we can do this.’ So maybe they don’t come back to in-person learning even when (the pandemic) is all over.”
For those families, the Washougal School District now has another option: the Washougal Learning Academy, which offers remote, independent education for Washougal students seeking an alternative learning experience.
“About two years ago, we started reaching out to some of the students who left (the Washougal School District) to pursue other learning opportunities to find out about what things we were missing and how we could provide options for students to stay in their community and not have to go somewhere else. That input was really important,” said WSD assistant superintendent Renae Burson. “We wanted to offer something to families who are looking for a more flexible learning experience. It gives students more of a voice and more control over their education.”
The Washougal school board approved the purchase and adoption of Edmentum, a virtual learning academy platform that will provide curriculum for the Washougal Learning Academy at the board’s June 23 meeting.
“We are trying to make sure that we are poised for all contingencies for the future as we think about distance learning and how some of our students might need more ways to access school, and (this) alternative learning environment is just such a way,” Washougal schools superintendent Mary Templeton said at the virtual June 23 school board meeting. “We want to make sure that we are ready and prepared as we move into the fall and beyond with an (alternative learning experience) program.”
Students who opt in to the Washougal Learning Academy will receive an internet-capable device; learning materials; access to consulting and academic support; suggested daily schedules; academic objectives; opportunities to complete project-based lessons in a variety of subjects; and one hour per week of dedicated time with a certified teacher.
“It can provide a personalized learning experience,” Burson said. “We’ve thought about trying to bring in instructors from the community who have expertise in certain subjects that students may be interested in. We’re excited to reach out to the community to form partnerships and open doors that didn’t exist before. We can ask students, ‘What do you want your learning to look like?'”
District leaders believe the program also will benefit students who have outside commitments, such as work or childcare, or who may need to complete additional coursework to meet graduation standards.
“We know that the traditional learning model doesn’t work for some students,” Burson said. “For those students who don’t see themselves succeeding in the classroom, this program gives them a chance to find success. It will allow them to control the time, place and pace of their learning. They can access the materials at times that work for them, and spend more time on a certain subject.”