Administration proposes virtual school option for next school year


Courtesy of Dr. Betsy Bockman

A graphic, shown during a town hall meeting with principal Dr. Betsy Bockman on March 3 and 4, depicts the differences between Atlanta Virtual Academy (AVA) and Midtown Virtual (MVI).

Greta Gustafson

The past year has shown the Grady community school isn’t limited to physical classrooms. As students are being scheduled for next year, the administration has a plan to make permanent virtual school a reality. 

The virtual option would be called Midtown Virtual Institution (MVI) and is geared for those who want to remain students at Midtown High School (Grady’s new name starting next year) but would prefer to learn online. 

“Students would be Midtown students and take classes that they would at school but they would be online, or in a pod, or even in Montana,” Principal Dr. Betsy Bockman said during a recent town hall meeting.

The level of student interest in virtual school isn’t clear yet. Students needed to notify the school by March 19 if they wanted to participate in the program. Around 45 students indicated their interest in virtual school, whether it be only for the first semester or for the full 2021-2022 school year. 

“You would have Midtown core teachers,” Dr. Bockman said. “The curriculum would be framed by state standards; so, you would have the same curriculum as those at school, and you could participate fully in Midtown clubs and sports. We are looking at a minimum of six classes. You could take eight, but you only need 24 credits to graduate, and most students already are earning more than that.”

As of March 2021, 88 percent of Grady students are participating in virtual learning. Though the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic isn’t clear, some students, such as sophomore Mia Otoski, are looking forward to being back in school in person at some point.

“There have been some things that I like about virtual, but once it is safe and back to normal, I definitely want to go back,” Otoski said.

Though the majority of students are eager to return in person in the fall, others are interested in the online option after thriving in virtual school.

“My mental health has gotten so much better since I don’t have to be around as many people,” junior Ella Mitchell said. “I feel like I have a lot more free time, too.”

One of the reasons some students, like Mitchell, are gravitating toward virtual school is the advantage of getting to travel while still doing school.

“My family has an Airstream [recreation vehicle]; so, we can go to different RV spots around the country, which is super great,” said Mitchell, who has traveled to Florida, Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico while still doing online school.

If there are enough students committed to doing virtual school, then the administration will survey teachers. The purpose of these new student surveys is to differentiate between those who chose to remain home due to fear of Covid-19 and those who think that they excel in an online environment.   

“This is for people whose students have done very well with virtual and they want to continue that,” Dr. Bockman said.   

Virtual school won’t offer the full scope of Grady courses. For electives or AP classes, finding teachers to make full classes will be difficult. 

“We’re not going to be able to do it for all of the electives,” Dr. Bockman said. “You’re not going to get the extensive variety of classes in a complete virtual environment.”

Some students, like junior Alex Swift, have succeeded during virtual learning, but think going back to school in the future would be best.

“The core classes being offered is key because there are some students who don’t want to take a lot of electives,” Swift said. “For those people, this would probably be a better option.”

Teachers have more flexibility than students and will be able to teach online and in-person if they are interested in doing so. 

In the proposed plan, there would be the option of teaching two in-person classes and one virtual class all in one day. There would be no simultaneous learning, where some students are in class with the teacher and others are online. 

“There are quite a few teachers excited about this opportunity to teach a completely virtual class from school,” Dr. Bockman said.

The viability of the program depends on student interest. Dr. Bockman wants to offer the program to give students more flexibility to get the opportunity to learn in an environment that suits them best.

“I’m really committed to making this work,” Dr. Bockman said. “I feel like it is just the way of the world now. We’ve gotten used to something different, and I really want to honor that.”