virtual program still at full capacity, but with a shorter waiting list | Education

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The waitlist for Frederick County public school students wanting to join the district’s all-virtual program has dropped significantly since the start of the school year.

Families had the option to transfer in or out of FCPS’ co-ed virtual program at the end of the district’s first semester, which ended Jan. 13. The virtual program is still at capacity, said its college principal, Frank Vetter, but only about 130 students are waiting to enter. In August, that figure was around 400.

The increased safety of vaccines for children under 12 — which were rolled out in November — has led some parents to send their children back for in-person learning, Vetter said. Other children missed their friends too much. And some families have decided that the virtual format just isn’t the right academic solution for their students.

The length of the waitlist “went up and down” in the first half, Vetter said, with a spike in families wanting to join when the omicron variant began to spread. But many others have chosen to try a virtual education — or decided to give it up — for reasons unrelated to the virus, he said.

“We created this to be a long-term option,” Vetter said. “It wasn’t just to respond to what’s happening with the pandemic.”

The virtual program can serve as an alternative for students who struggle in a traditional classroom for a number of reasons, Vetter said. Over the course of a semester, he reflected on the successes and challenges of building the program — which essentially operates as its own school, with its own teachers, administrators, and counselors — from the ground up.

“In terms of implementation, I’m pretty happy with it,” he said. “And I believe we know what makes online learning effective.”

There were challenges, Vetter said, but most of them were behind the scenes. It can be difficult, for example, to manage staff and student records when children come in and out of the program so often.

Casey Bazzano of Adamstown has decided to keep his two daughters, Gianna and Briella, at BVP for the remainder of the year. She works in healthcare, she said, and has been very cautious throughout the pandemic.

Originally, Bazzano had planned to send his daughters – a fourth-grader and a first-grader – back to Carroll Manor Elementary School once they were fully vaccinated. But the omicron variant changed that.

“I know a lot of virtual parents, that was our plan – ‘We’ll get them vaccinated, then they can come back,'” Bazzano said.

But when case rates started to skyrocket, Bazzano decided she wasn’t comfortable sending her children away. Most of the time, she said, it was because they had to have lunch in a room with hundreds of other unmasked students.

It’s also a concern among some other parents, Bazzano said. A friend of hers chose to leave the BVP before omicron arrived and couldn’t get them back. Now she picks up her children every day at noon and the family eats in the parking lot, Bazzano said.

Bazzano said she feels lucky that her daughters are thriving in the BVP – both have straight Aces, and neither seem distressed about running out of time with their classmates. The girls take riding lessons and participate in other outdoor activities that allow them to interact with other children.

Plus, Bazzano and her husband both work remotely, so they can help the girls with homework or troubleshoot tech issues. She understands that not all families have this luxury.

“If I went to work and was exposed and exposed my kids, they might as well have gone to school,” she said. “Thank goodness they’re doing well, otherwise I might have a different conversation. If my kids were having emotional difficulties, or if I was seeing depression or whatever, it might be different.

The elementary virtual program had a waiting list of 51 students as of January 18, up from 162 students in August. The college had 18 against 113 in August, and the high school 64 against 124 in August.

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