News From The Nest
What's Going On In The World Of VLA
November 20, 2020
LISD Vision: All of our students enjoy thriving, productive lives in a future they create
LISD Mission: Students, staff, and community design and implement a learning organization that provides engaging innovative experiences every day.
Virtual Learning Academy Mission: Foster independent learning by guiding and supporting all students in a flexible and innovative online framework.
Greetings from “The Nest”
We have made it! It is time to step back and give thanks for all we have and spend time safely with our families. This is a great time to recharge. At VLA, we are thankful for each family who is on this educational adventure with us. As you head into the holiday season, please make sure you each take time to find time to relax and time to reconnect. We know it will be very different for all of us this year. While we may not be traveling as much or keeping our gatherings small, we can still find ways to connect with our families and recharge through doing things we enjoy. I for one look forward to spending time with my immediate family, taking long bike rides on remote country roads, and catching up on some great reads. What are your plans to recharge?
Dr. Chris Bigenho
Director of VLA
Reconnecting through Virtual Interactions: Welcome to 2020 Holiday Season
From the desk of Dr. Romona Thomas- VLA Counselor
Wow, what a year! It is amazing that we are in the last months of 2020. Unlike previous holiday seasons, many of us will be celebrating quite differently this time around. Many of us have been living in bubbles much of 2020 due to the Coronavirus Pandemic that took us all by surprise. While we have shifted our norms to wearing mask daily, social distancing, and cutting back on interactions with those who are not in the home with us, I know you may be getting a little tired and are longing for those festive holiday gatherings.
Unfortunately, many of our holiday traditions provide opportunities to spread the virus. It will be essential to consider alternatives for family gatherings and interactions this holiday season so that we can keep ourselves and others around us safe. However, this does not mean that we can’t get creative and enjoy family activities and gatherings a little different this year. Below are some suggestions for Virtual Interactions during the 2020 Holiday Season from Parents Pack.
Ultimately, you may decide that a virtual holiday party is the best way to ensure everyone’s safety and comfort. And, short of a power outage, virtual events can go on even if the weather does not cooperate. If you decide to go this route, get creative with your virtual gathering by considering some of these options:
- Make it fun. Choose a theme for your party and have your guests “show up” with themed outfits.
- Plan what time you will eat and share the menu in advance, so everyone can dine together. Alternatively, treat everyone to a pre-ordered holiday meal, so the food can be delivered, and everyone can enjoy it together.
- Skip the meal and go right to dessert with a cookie decorating contest. Have your guests bake and decorate their favorite holiday cookies before the event and vote for the winners. Alternatively, send everyone a “cookie decorating” kit before the event and decorate together.
- Send gifts ahead of time, then open them during the virtual party. Consider having attendees guess who sent them.
- Plan virtual games that kids — and adults — enjoy. Consider a family history trivia game to see who remembers the most. Or, have a scavenger hunt. The family hoarders will shine! What about holiday bingo? Have everyone create boards and try their luck. The options are endless.
- Don’t forget to hit the record button. Many video conferencing tools allow you to record your event without anyone needing to remember to “grab the camera.”
Although this holiday season will be unlike any other, with advance planning, proper precautions and a little bit of creativity, your holidays can be both special and safe.
Online Learning in Texas
If Lewisville ISD’s Virtual Learning Academy has been around since 2007, why is this the first year that we are able to take all our classes online?
This is a question I frequently get. When I arrived in Lewisville three years ago, I asked our students why they wanted to take our online classes. The answers were many but several were more common than others. While most students wanted a hybrid model of traditional campus classes and virtual classes, there were students who wanted and or needed full-time virtual learning. I quickly learned that this was not possible under current state law.
As you can imagine, just about everything comes down to funding. It turns out that there are only eight districts in the entire state who are allowed to teach Texas public school children full-time virtually and receive full funding for their services. This list contains six public ISD’s and two charter schools. These eight districts can do more than offer full-time virtual to their students, they can also offer that same service to any student in the state of Texas! This means that students in other districts find themselves needing to leave their home district and transfer to one of these eight districts if they want or need full-time virtual learning.
This year, because of COVID-19 state-wide waivers from the Texas Education Agency (TEA), any school district in Texas is allowed to provide full-time virtual learning for any of their students. However, because VLA classes are actually authorized by TEA through the Texas Virtual Schools Network for inclusion in funding formulas, TEA did not relax any of the restrictions set on TXVSN authorized courses. This means that we still could not use our rich catalog of existing courses through VLA to serve full-time virtual learning to even our own students. In addition, the limits on the number of TXVSN courses that could be taken in a year by a student were still in place. Yet, we were able to stand up a new model for all grades this year only through the existing COVID waivers. The big question now is what happens when the waivers expire?
As of September 28th, TEA reported that 58% of all Texas public school children were receiving remote synchronous or asynchronous instruction. While we know that many of these students need and or want to get back to campus a quickly as possible, we also know that for some of these students, they have found their “sweet spot”. Online learning works better for some of them than face to face on campus ever did. So, when the waivers expire and we all return to campus, what will LISD be able to provide to our students who need or want to continue learning in the virtual environment? The answer to this question hinges on what happens during the 87th Texas legislative session that starts in January (stay tuned!).
What we do know is that LISD wants to do what is best for all kids and not all kids flourish in classrooms. If we are not allowed to meet the needs of these students, we will likely lose them to one of the 8 districts allowed by law to serve any student in the state of Texas. This would effectively be a defunding of local school districts including LISD.
Therefore, LISD’s Virtual Learning Academy is proposing changes in state law to allow local independent school districts to receive full funding for serving their own students full-time online. While virtual classrooms are not for everyone, there are students who do need and want this learning experience and we, as a public-school district, should be allowed to serve our kids in all the ways they learn best.
In future issues, I will share more about the work being done to get the laws changed to better serve our students and all kids in Texas.
We are asking that the state:
“Provide full-day funding for independent school districts that choose to create district-operated, full-time online schools that serve the students within its district boundaries utilizing district approved curriculum and courses.”