NEWARK – School system officials this week announced plans for a new virtual learning program to be offered in the coming school year.
Superintendent Lou Taylor advised parents Tuesday that the Worcester County Public Schools Blended Learning Program would be offered as a virtual option in the fall.
“As you may have heard over the past months, Maryland school districts are developing a virtual learning option for the 2021-2022 school year,” he said in a call to parents Tuesday. “With the lessons learned both from distance learning this year and Continuity of Learning last year, I want to announce today that Worcester County Public Schools is launching the Blended Learning Program beginning this fall.”
Taylor said information on the new program, including sample schedules. was available on the school system’s website, www.worcesterk12.org. He encouraged parents to look into it thoroughly before signing their children up, as it will differ from the virtual learning options offered during the past year.
“This full-year blended program is very different from the distance learning that students have experienced this school year– particularly in terms of the amount of screen time required, so I want to ensure that any families interested in pursuing this option have the opportunity to review exactly what this program entails,” he said.
In an interview Wednesday, Annette Wallace, the school system’s chief academic and operating officer for grades 9-12, said the school system was accepting applications for the program until June 17. She credited a steering committee made up of school system leadership from throughout the county with developing a plan for the program as well as a guide to familiarize parents and students with what it involved.
“We feel that in the year 2021, looking around at other school systems and the challenges our families and students have faced, we felt it was time to offer a blended virtual option,” she said.
Unlike the virtual learning provided in 2020, the blended program will operate more like a traditional school day. Students will be online a minimum of six hours. While they’ll have breaks, just like they would in school, they’ll be expected to be connected, with their computer camera on, the whole school day.
“That’s a message we really want our families to hear,” Wallace said.
Though that wasn’t a requirement during distance learning, Wallace said that was because it was hard to provide equity when some students didn’t have proper internet access.
“Only about 35% of our population in Pocomoke and Snow Hill have access to high speed internet,” she said.
Wallace said those considering the program should also be aware that blended learning students in grades six through 12 will be using the Apex learning management system.
“We encourage parents to look into that beforehand,” she said. “All of our principals are ready to answer questions about blended learning. We really want to make sure this is the right fit.”
She said the June 17 application deadline would give the school system time to determine how to allocate staff for the coming year. Enrollment will dictate how exactly the program operates, but Wallace said an example might be one teacher handling first-grade blended learning district-wide.
“We need to have time on our end to plan,” she said.