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While the vast majority of Ellensburg School District students opted to return to the classroom full-time, some who experienced the Virtual Academy option as a better fit will continue with online education this fall.

“It works for some kids in every way. A lot of kids are choosing to do this due to the health situation, the COVID situation, but many of the kids are very successful in this type of learning and so it is an option we are planning on continuing here at Ellensburg after the pandemic is done, if the numbers demonstrate it’s a service the community wants,” said ESD Executive Director of Student Services Kelly Kronbauer.

According to Kronbauer, there are currently 42 students registered for the Virtual Academy this year, a stark contrast to the 1,200 students registered at the start of the 2020 school year. Unlike previous years, students cannot join the virtual academy simply for pandemic-related concerns. Many students had trouble getting used to remote education, so students are being vetted to make sure they will be able to succeed in online learning.

The Virtual Academy was created to provide students who had health concerns about the virus a place to learn without worrying about catching COVID at school. However, it appears many of the students who are interested in remote learning this year are doing so to avoid having to wear a mask.

“When the governor announced the vaccine requirement (for teachers) and the masking requirements (for everyone), we saw an uptick in interest,” Kronbauer said.

Another change this year is that ESD teachers are not going to be hosting any virtual academy class, that responsibility falls on teachers from Edgenuity, the learning management system used by the district for online learning last year.

“Edgenuity is the company that provides the online curriculum, and they also provide certificated teachers in Washington state. Part of that is the district can then purchase teachers to work with kids online, and that’s what our district has done, for the first semester,” Kronbauer said. “So the 42 kids that we have are enrolled in Ellensburg, but we pay for them to be served through Edgenuity.”

The Ellensburg students taking remote classes range from the elementary level to the high school level, although Kronbauer said most are in higher grade levels. The parents also are expected to support their children through requirements Edgenuity has. Kronbauer described it as a “learning coordinator role.”

ESD has committed the whole school year to Edgenuity for virtual academy, although students in the program can leave at the end of every semester and move back to in-person learning.

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