SALEM, Ore. — KGW has checked in on schools a number of time this year as in-person learning began again. But some students never went back to a brick-and-mortar school and instead chose to continue to attend school online.
KGW reached out to Salem-Keizer Public Schools, Beaverton Schools and Portland Public Schools to get an idea of plans for next year. All three districts, some of Oregon’s largest, plan to continue offering an online option for students.
Artonya Gemmill and Christine Bowlby are both co-lead principals for Salem-Keizer Public Schools' EDGE online program. They say EDGE is in its second year and things are going well.
“We are just under about 2,000 K-12 [students]. It still makes us one of the top largest online programs in the state,” said Bowlby.
They say the kind of education students are getting through EDGE is not the same as the comprehensive distance learning so many parents remember from 2020.
“People often will equate our program with comprehensive distance learning and it isn't exactly the same. Are there some components that are similar? Yes. But we are really truly an online school. So, students have options to have live lessons every day, Monday through Friday,” Gemmill said.
Students can choose between two tracks, one has more live teacher interaction and the other is more of a self-directed track. They said many students are finding success online.
“We have seen our students either right around where other kids are in the district or even above in some areas,” said Gemmill.
“Just recently we had over 40% of our middle school students on the honor roll. We had about 28% of our high school students on the honor roll,” she said.
While a number of public school districts expect a drop in in-person enrollment next year, Gemmill and Bowlby said they don't anticipate the same.
“We're seeing about the same number of students that are saying, ‘Hey, we're going to go back to in-person next year.’ That is about the same number of families that are saying, ‘Hey, we'd like to come to online next year,” explained Bowlby.
She and Gemmill said because of the feedback they’ve received, they plan to try to give students more opportunities to meet in person for things like field trips or social gatherings with peers. As it stands, EDGE students are able to participate in extracurricular activities that are connected to the school they would be attending if they chose to attend in person.
They also said the EDGE program provides opportunities for students to meet with counselors to help students with anxiety. Younger and older students have class time dedicated to social-emotional learning, helping students recognize and cope with feelings of anxiety or producing healthy interpersonal relationships. For elementary students, it’s daily. Older students get that opportunity twice a week.
A spokesperson for Portland Public Schools said its Online Learning Academy serves about 600 students and like other districts, plans to keep a virtual learning option in place for next year.
Both Beaverton Schools, as well as Salem-Keizer Public Schools, plan to keep the online learning option available long-term since both districts had planned to have an online learning platform even before the pandemic.
Registration for online learning next school year is open now for Salem-Keizer and Beaverton Schools. Families in Salem-Keizer Public Schools have until March 31st to register and families in Beaverton have until April 17. Portland Public Schools plans to open registration for its Online Learning Academy in May.