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Parents, students turn to virtual academy amid new COVID-19 concerns

According to the Arizona State Board of Education, there are now 120 approved district Arizona Online Instruction (AOI) Programs across the state.

PHOENIX — Cartwright Elementary School district schools were forced to shut down their physical sites last year, like countless other schools across the state.  

The students, faculty and staff turned to distance learning, working from home, remoting in to learn.  

This fall, that was supposed to change, but an increasing number of parents are choosing to keep their kids home to learn in a safe environment from home once again. Thanks to a new program the district created, it’s possible. 

“Last year, she did the virtual online and I think she’s better off doing it," said Veronica Alvarado, the mom of 14-year-old Maya Perez. "She feels more comfortable at home.” 

She’s going into 8th grade, excited to start a new school year through the Cartwright Virtual Academy. She made the decision to stay virtual with safety in mind.   

“COVID and everything like that, but yeah, I feel good about it,” she said.  

Maya is one of more than 200 students, now enrolled in the online instruction program, that’s fully accredited with the state of Arizona, giving students the opportunity to continue learning from home.  

“We provide them with their own Chromebook device, and they can log in to our system,” said Ryan Anderson, Cartwright Virtual Academy Administrator “We’re using Google Classroom for them to access all of their lessons online and remotely.”   

Anderson said in addition to the flexibility that comes with the program, all of the lessons are created by highly qualified, certified Arizona teachers. It’s a more structured approach than last year.  

“Those teachers offer morning meetings to orientate our students and get them ready for the day, provide digital citizenship and then they offer office hours throughout the day, so if students are struggling with any of their lessons, they can connect with their teachers remotely,” he said.  

As more concerns tied to the COVID-19 Delta variant arise, specifically in a neighborhood known to have low vaccination rates with high transmission, the district has seen an increase in the number of students enrolled.  

“We’ve seen quite a spike in the last few weeks,” Anderson said. “Initially, our enrollment was around 80 throughout the summer, however most recently I think our most recent totals are over 250.”   

Before the students log on, families are trained on how to keep track of instructional minutes, so students get credit for being in class.  

“Our families do have to keep track of those instructional minutes, log them and then submit them to us every week,” he said.  

Right now, they’re offering the core subjects and PE, with plans to add music and art in the future.  

Cartwright Virtual Academy is working to help students like Maya, get the grades she needs to get to that next level – high school.  

“Pretty excited,” she exclaimed.  

While virtual learning isn’t for everyone, they’re still moving forward with in-person learning as planned, but it’s proving to be a great option for those enrolled.   

“My hope is that we see really high rates of learning amongst all our scholars online,” Anderson said. “We’re going to do everything in our power, with my teaching staff to make sure that that happens.”  

Classes have already started, but there’s still time to enroll. 

According to the Arizona State Board of Education, there are now 120 approved district Arizona Online Instruction (AOI) Programs across the state.  

For more information about the Cartwright Virtual Academy, head to: https://www.csd83.org/domain/233

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