Guilford County Schools preparing for new virtual academies

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GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. — More than 2,000 students have signed up for Guilford County’s new virtual academies.

But parents still have a lot of questions.

FOX8 spoke with school district leaders on Monday morning. They say this is an opportunity for everyone.

Whitney Oakley, the chief academic officer for Guilford County Schools, said to think of the application as a registration process for any public school.

No one will be denied an opportunity at the virtual academies.

It is a free learning experience, but parents will need to make sure their kids have connectivity and devices to participate.

For some families, it could be a challenge.

“We will try to help parents if they have struggles with connectivity, but we cannot guarantee as a school system that we can provide connectivity to every house,” Oakley said.

School leaders admit that families who enroll their kids in the virtual academies for the upcoming school year could run into some challenges.

“It doesn’t rule them out,” Oakley said.

She said wireless access is a constant problem across the county.

“We are putting things in place, like the hot spots and turning on outdoor connectivity at some of our larger rural high schools where people can access it in the parking lot,” she said.

District officials are also working on a partnership with the City of Greensboro, UNCG and North Carolina A&T State University for widespread connectivity for students.

But in order to use this access, students need devices.

“We are — and principals — are working with families to make sure that students who don’t have devices are able to get those, as preparation for this upcoming school year,” Oakley said.

Last year, district leaders handed out more than 17,000 devices.

It’s a start, but not enough.

“It won’t be perfect, but it will be better than when we had to turn it around over a weekend in mid-March,” Oakley said.

She said they’ve used complaints to find solutions to problems that people had back then.

“They don’t want a platform that looks different for one class and another,” she said. “They want to be able to practice navigating online learning before it begins.”

While they are benefits to remote learning, Oakley said this option isn’t for everyone.

“You have to provide a blend. You have to provide things students can do on their own,” she said. “It’s really important for them to have that time with their teachers. It will provide opportunities for small group instruction and individual check-ins.”

The district is also creating a bank of how-to videos to help make sure parents and students know how to access material and lessons that are posted online.

GCS leaders also say they’re giving educators who are at-risk the chance to be a part of these academies. However, the slots are open to anyone to a license.

They won’t know how many teachers they will need until registration is over.

As of now, enrollment ends Aug. 1. Once parents register their children, they can change their minds before the first semester begins.

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