Learning Virtually

Innovative R-7 Elementary Online Academy serves students in the community and beyond.

The term ‘back to school’ often brings to mind visions of backpacks, clothes shopping and learning new bus routes. For a growing number of students, however, no transportation is necessary to attend school, as their classrooms are virtual. 

The Lee’s Summit R-7 Elementary Online Academy (R7EOA) is in its third year of offering virtual education to students not just in Lee’s Summit but across the state. Accredited through the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and administered through the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District, curricula follows that of the district’s in-person schools and is accessible by families across the state through the Missouri Course Access and Virtual School Program (MOCAP).

Reasons for families choosing online learning are as diverse as the students themselves. Some families choose virtual school due to learning styles or health issues, while others may be involved in competitive performance activities that require significant travel and benefit from the consistent accessibility of online instruction. 

Marissa Ryba, parent of an incoming third-grade student from Kirkwood, MO said “initially we chose to have Kaspar go online because of health concerns, and our intention was for it to be a temporary decision, but his progress has been so explosive that we’ve chosen to maintain this learning environment; he’s learning time management as a second grader, and that blows my mind.”

Regardless of the ‘why’ for choosing online school, teachers say relationship-building is one of the most meaningful facets of virtual learning. Kindergarten R7EOA teacher Samantha Richardson feels she gets to know more about her students; “the amount of communication with my students and parents is key to our success. I get to know them so much more, personally and academically, and I get to know their families: brothers, sisters, grandparents, pets, etc. Without the interruptions of a traditional school setting, I can experience more one-on-one time with my students.”

Parents are also seeing the value of the individualized attention. “What turned out to be amazing for my son was how he focused and connected with his teacher that didn’t happen even when he was in person. There’s so much communication and availability. He’s learning better in a less distracting environment; it’s just what’s best for him,” added Marissa Ryba.

For those wondering whether online instruction is as collaborative and rigorous as in person learning, according to teachers there’s nothing to fear. “Students interact with their teacher every day, just like in person. They also have time to interact with other students each day in both social and collaborative activities. Students complete lessons in all subjects daily and have daily assignments to turn in. However, there is a flexibility to online learning that in-person learning doesn't provide. If a student has a doctor appointment, the parents let me know, and then they access the recorded lessons and posted assignments later. Sick students don't have to miss school, because they can either still attend meetings, or just watch the recordings if they don't feel up to being on a meeting,” said Stephanie Ford, second grade R7EOA teacher.

While passionate about their craft, R7EOA teachers say there are some common misconceptions about online learning. “I often hear people say that Online Academy is only a partial learning experience, or that it is only for students who have medical concerns. We are for ANY elementary student! I also think it is assumed that students are stuck on their Chromebook in meetings all day long (or the opposite, that lessons are entirely self paced). In reality, students do interact in a variety of asynchronous (independent) and synchronous (live) activities daily,” said Ford.

At the end of the day, academic and personal growth are the goals of both in-person and online schools, and R7EOA teachers report much success in both areas.

Ford says “This year I had a student come to my Online Academy class from in-person learning. He had been significantly struggling with behaviors at school and had missed out on a lot of instruction time. Once he came online,  his family and I were able to work together, along with our online special education teacher, and with their support from home, we were able to significantly increase his engagement in learning. He made so much progress and was one of my model students during live meetings!”

Similarly, Richardson feels that although online teaching requires more up-front planning than traditional in-person teaching, she is able to finish the expected curriculum easily by the end of the year due to fewer daily interruptions and the ability to meet with students during their asynchronous learning time. “Our online students are receiving the same curriculum, the same expectations for higher learning, the same small group reading, positive reinforcement and relationship building as their in-person peers. My favorite saying is Virtual Education: Different, Not Less!”

From a parent perspective, Ryba says the academic progress is evident, “I’m very analytical. His progress is documented - I love seeing NWEA reading score, which is standardized, so we know how he’s doing compared to other students his age.”

R7EOA Administrator Dr. Joy Brigman sums it up this way. “We are proud to offer families a choice when it comes to educating their child.  The Online Academy provides a top-notch learning experience that replicates in-person learning with greater benefits.  Our dedicated teachers connect with kids and families at levels deeper than available at a typical brick and mortar school.  Our small class sizes and flexible schedule afford children personalized instruction tailored to meet their needs.”

For more information about the R7 Elementary Online Academy, MOCAP or to enroll your student, visit https://r7oa.lsr7.org

Although many R7 Elementary Online Academy students are from the Lee's Summit area, enrollment is available to any grade K-5 student in Missouri via the MOCAP program, like Kaspar, who is from Kirkwood, MO.

Students like Malia conduct science experiments and other projects at home, just as they would in a typical classroom setting, sharing their observations with their classmates.

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