Andrew Campanella: Why is community involvement important to your students and your school?
Suzanne Sloan: One of the myths of virtual learning is that students are at home learning and they don’t get a chance to socialize and they don’t get a chance to be with other people. Our families will tell you that it is the polar opposite. Because they have the ability to be flexible with their scheduling, they actually have more opportunities to be with other students. One of the ways they do this is through service projects, which help their individual communities.
Andrew Campanella: So, all 2,125 students across 11 grades (K-11) are doing self-designed service projects in their communities?
Suzanne Sloan: The students select somewhere, something in their community where they see a need. One of my favorites was the food bank project, where students went an created little items that could be picked up at the area food bank… Other students send letters to the firefighters across the Commonwealth and give homemade cookies to their police officers. There are so many different types of projects and students get excited to share their projects with others. They find out that something exciting is going on up on one side of the state and they will load up a caravan and they’ll drive everybody over to help.
Andrew Campanella: Does the staff get involved, too?
Suzanne Sloan: Yes, we try to partner students up with at least one staff member on these projects. And the employees at K12’s national headquarters in Herndon, Virginia got excited about what we are doing [at the local level]. When it came to the food bank project, we had staff say, “we could make up some [gift] bags here, too.” This created a nice connection between the students and the people who are designing their curriculum, shipping out their books to them and making sure that their technology and hardware is up to date. Now, we have signs all over the building saying, “Please donate to this particular event.”
Andrew Campanella: If there is one thing that you could tell people about online learning – one myth you could dispel – what would it be?
Suzanne Sloan: I would want people to know that our students really need this choice. Some of them are not able to succeed in the traditional school setting and they want a public school education. I want people to know that students who have special needs and students who are gifted, they can all benefit. Every student, all 2,100 plus students of mine, there are 2,100 stories. Every single one of them has a different story about why they wanted to come here, but they really need this choice.
Andrew Campanella: Finally, I have to ask: how does VAVA celebrate School Choice Week every year?
Suzanne Sloan: One of the reasons why we celebrated School Choice Week in the past is to let our students meet their local officials and have conversations with them about the importance of allowing the virtual academy to grow. Throughout School Choice Week, our eighth-grade composition teacher would have essays that students would be writing. This past year, we did something different. We had our community service days across the state. We had everybody in their yellow scarves, wherever they are – in Northern Virginia, in Hampton Roads, in Chesapeake, in the Southwest, in the middle of the state – everyone doing their projects and talking about school choice.
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