Northern New York school to offer virtual classes permanently

Updated: Jun. 8, 2021 at 5:01 PM EDT
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MALONE, N.Y. (WCAX) - One North Country school has decided to keep virtual learning as an option for its students K-12 indefinitely. They’re calling it Torch Academy. Our Kelly O’Brien learned more about the program and spoke with a student who says her experience was a success.

Over the last year, a lot of your meetings or classes were probably online. While some people hated the idea of going virtual, for some it was beneficial. So beneficial, it’s being added to the curriculum for one Board of Cooperative Educational Services or BOCES district.

“I think it’s our obligation to provide a number of different pathways for kids and this will just fall into that,” said Shawn McMahon, the executive principal of North End FEH BOCES.

Franklin, Essex and Hamilton BOCES is in 10 districts across the three counties. It’s the first BOCES in the area to keeping the online learning.

It’s offering two platforms. The first one is similar to virtual learning where you are on camera with a teacher. The second one assigns a curriculum to a student and completes tasks over the course of 18 weeks.

“I was a little bit skeptical about it at first, I’m not going to lie to you,” said Jordyn Holbrook, a senior at Chateaugay Central School District.

Holbrook took her economics class through the academy and said the virtual learning allowed her to work at her own pace.

As long as a student, like Holbrook, completes all the work, they can finish the course earlier, something she took advantage of which allowed her to focus on other classwork and finals that were not virtual.

“We are actually supposed to be done June third but I finished at the end of April,” Holbrook said.

The curriculum follows New York standards and all the teachers are New York certified, but they aren’t necessarily local.

The asynchronous learning style allows the student to do the school work around their schedule. An example in the trades-- it allows the student to work onsite during the day and do classwork after.

“These kids can get more experience in the trade and what they want to do in the future for their career,” McMahon said.

It also allows students a wider range of courses that their home districts may not offer.

Students who want to sign on also need to sign a contract where their progress is monitored every two weeks.

“We want to make sure we have parameters in place that, you know, it’s not for you and you need to go back to in-person learning at your home district,” said Lori Tourville, the assistant superintendent for instruction at FEH BOCES.

BOCES says this option is not for every student and doesn’t replace the benefits of being physically in a classroom with a teacher, but if it can help one student succeed, it’s worth it.

“There are kids out there who have really discovered during the pandemic that this is awesome,” Tourville said. “They have really excelled.”

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