A full-time, tuition-free public school, West Virginia Virtual Academy (WVVA) launched last year and provides an online learning program for students.
A full-time, tuition-free public school, West Virginia Virtual Academy (WVVA) launched last year and provides an online learning program for students in all 55 counties in grades K-11.
WVVA started the 2022-2023 school year with more than 400 students, with an almost 90% retention rate. We’re also proud to say our enrollment has doubled, and in the next three years, we may be the largest school in West Virginia, according to WVVA Executive Director Doug Cipoletti.
“I anticipate we will serve a few thousand students. We’re going to be growing and serving a lot of kids,” Cipoletti says. “Nothing like this existed when we first opened; the state had to adapt.”
We’re thankful for legislation allowing charter schools and for a successful inaugural school year. In August 2024, WVVA will add our first 12th grade class and our first 11th grade class begins this school year. WVVA is bound by the same graduation requirements as any other school in the state, ensuring students meet content skill sets and objectives, and a major objective of WVVA is career readiness, making us stand apart from other virtual and brick and mortar charter schools. We want students to graduate with credentials and with skills for post-secondary success, and we measure that success with a number of variables, including military service, employment, or any post-secondary education.
“It’s great to be able to provide families school choice in areas where they wouldn’t have had a choice,” Cipoletti says. “There’s a lot of small counties; they’re never going to have the resources to be able to provide a true virtual option for their students. That’s where we come in.”
Our partnership with Pierpont Community and Technical College is a great example of our commitment to career readiness. Our students can earn dual credit through classes at Pierpont and potentially earn an associate degree by the time they graduate.
“We were able to establish a partnership in our first year, which honestly, I thought would take three to five years, and so that was a really big highlight,” Cipoletti says.
Here, families choose to come to school with us, Cipoletti says, and they choose us again and again, as WVVA does not automatically re-enroll students. Treating students like customers means they get more individualized attention—something they may not receive at many brick and mortar schools.
We are partnered with an exceptional virtual education provider: K12, a Stride, Inc. company. An international company known across the U.S., Stride has schools in almost every state and has decades of virtual education experience. Thanks to K12, WVVA has made great strides—no pun intended—in providing students school choice across the state.
WVVA is not what students and families experienced during COVID. This is not a backup plan: this is our model. Our teachers are well equipped with all the necessary tools, including document cameras, laptops, additional monitors and anything they may need to teach effectively online, and students receive all their course materials, such as textbooks, math manipulatives, art supplies and more before the school year begins.
The platform that we use is not makeshift—it’s interactive. Students have live class connect sessions and both students and teachers have class schedules, and even if students do not have class every day, they have work to complete each day.
Not only does Stride have access to many certified teachers across the country, but there is increased interest from folks in West Virginia who want to work with us. We already have 24 state certified teachers at WVVA located all across the state.
“Thankfully, we’ve had a good number of applications whenever we have a job opening,” Cipoletti says. “I think a lot of teachers may have enjoyed working from home during COVID. They thrived just like students did, and some of them are drawn to this because they liked it and saw the value in it. In my opinion, we have some of the most caring educators across the state; they truly bend over backwards, and I think families feel that.”
Courtney Estes, a fourth grade, state certified WVVA teacher, also has a daughter enrolled in WVVA. Estes says when the COVID-19 pandemic happened, she started looking for alternative options for her daughter’s schooling; her daughter had a successful year last year and will continue her education with WVVA going forward.
“Speaking as a parent, not as a teacher, she really enjoyed the flexibility,” Estes says. “She liked the live classes and the option to do her work later on. If she had questions, her teachers were available; if she wanted to spend time with friends and socialize, there were clubs. It just turned out to be a really good experience for us personally.”
On the flip side, as an educator, Estes says she enjoys the opportunity to get to know each of her students and better cater to their needs more than she could in a classroom with more distractions.
“If I have a student that needs help with a certain subject, some extra support, I can meet with them and it’s truly one-on-one,” she says. “I don’t have a classroom of students that I’m also trying to keep an eye on while I meet with one student. Eliminating those distractions is helpful for a lot of students.”
The culture at West Virginia Virtual is friendly, welcoming and warm, Estes says, and smaller class sizes contribute to student success.
“The teachers all care so much about our students,” she says. “We can group students on their interests or their geographic area. Maybe we create a group of students that all live in the same part of the state. There are endless possibilities there, and by keeping the group small, we can make sure that everybody gets our full attention.”
Socialization is a priority for all our teachers. For face-to-face interaction, WVVA also has in-person field trips and events planned for our students to meet up with their classmates and instructors, and in addition to these opportunities, a few organizations available for students to join include a cooking club, writing club, academic showdown, teen talk, National Honors Society, Beta club, a student council and more. There are also national level clubs sponsored by Stride, so if students wanted to get involved in a club that WVVA does not offer, they can still get involved.
“Socialization is a priority for all the teachers,” Estes says. “We want the kids to feel like they have friends, and my daughter made friends last year in her class and she played with them. She played online with them because a lot of them live far away, but she was able to stay in contact with them all summer. Even though we’re virtual, students can still get together and find things that they have in common, work toward common goals.”
Just as we know how crucial socialization is for students, we understand the importance of a beneficial environment for our learning coaches, otherwise known and parents and guardians. Recently, families in a certain area have started to reach out to one another and are developing their own hometown relationships; we have families gathering together without the school intervening.
“If they want to reach out and say, ‘My student is interested in nature and we want to go hiking at this park, if anyone’s in our area we’ll be there,’ there are opportunities for learning coaches to get to know each other too, which is important,” Estes says. WVVA works hard to build that community for all our students, teachers, administrators and learning coaches.
“Even though we’re a virtual school, we feel like our relationships with one another as staff members and with families is actually greater than when we worked in an office or brick and mortar,” Cipoletti says.
In the classroom before WVVA, Estes says her daughter was a little bit distracted, and here, she can learn in an environment that is comfortable for her, and the anxiety she had is gone now. Estes and her daughter are able to eat lunch together every day, and the family pets join her for school.
“Having those comforts of home and taking away the distraction of being in a large class really has made a huge difference for her,” she says. “This has been the best decision that as a parent that I’ve made for my daughter. As a teacher, we really try to partner with our students and their families and work with them to find what works for them.”
“I can do my schoolwork without getting distracted. I can cuddle with my pets all day. There are so many awesome teachers that are really nice, and I made lots of good friends,” Estes’ daughter says.