Virtual program

Horry teachers challenge option to eliminate virtual program


This is the Horry County Schools sign.

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Teachers in the Horry County Schools Virtual Program were surprised and frustrated this week after the district announced its recommendation to shut down the program due to the apparently high failure rate of its students.

According to a district presentation, about 42% of all virtual students were failing at least one grade, including 59% high school students and 46% seniors, leading the school board to consider disbanding altogether the program. Over 2,000 students are currently enrolled in HCS Virtual.

Some teachers disputed the numbers, noting that the percentages presented to the board’s curriculum and instruction committee on Monday were withdrawn on Dec. 6, while the semester did not end until Jan. 13.

Premature data?

Cyndi Teeguarden, who teaches high school students at HCS Virtual, told The Sun News that high school students in particular often wait until the last possible day to hand in their work. Only about 13% of students failed her course, roughly in line with when she worked at Myrtle Beach High School, and other virtual teachers she spoke to expressed similar results.

Responding to questions about the timing of the data, district spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier said the presentation represented a “verification of students’ progress in the virtual program” before the end of the semester, and that they are in the process of to compile additional data that will be presented. to the board before it is supposed to vote on the future of the program.

Some teachers with the virtual program expressed a general feeling that they were “prepared to fail” from the start – which was before the 2020-21 school year – despite some students thriving in a virtual environment. The idea of ​​shutting down the program not only came as a shock, but also raised concerns for students who did well in the virtual setting, teachers said.

“There are a lot of kids who are doing very well and doing extremely well here,” Teeguarden said. “So many stories of kids being bullied, having great anxiety about being in brick and mortar…they are thriving in the virtual. Is this environment for everyone? Neither can the mortar. That’s why we should be giving these children choices.

About 12 to 15 percent of brick-and-mortar students fail at least one class in a typical year, Dean of Studies Boone Myrick said at Monday’s school board meeting, according to MyHorryNews. It is unknown what percentage of brick-and-mortar students are currently failing at least one class, and the past two years have not been typical due to the pandemic, and this should be taken into account when analyzing of the failure rate, according to an HCS Virtual primary school teacher who declined to be named because she is not authorized to speak to the media.

The percentage of virtual students who failed at least one class last year was not immediately available, according to Bourcier.

Virtual resources

The elementary school teacher also said there was a gap in resources for virtual students compared to physical students. For example, printed worksheets and other materials were not provided by the district in some cases, and in other cases they are severely delayed, she said.

“HCS is committed to providing quality education to all students,” Bourcier wrote in an email. “We want our students to succeed in whatever educational setting they participate in.”

Most of the resources allocated to HCS Virtual come from the CARES Act, with millions distributed to school districts nationwide to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Horry Schools would have about $5.9 million in CARES Act funding to reallocate over the next two years if the virtual program is shut down, according to Bourcier.

Since the program began, a series of adjustments and changes have been made to help students, Bourcier said, including the addition of a virtual library, flexible meeting times with teachers, and tutoring.

Teeguarden noted that one of the biggest changes has been the student attendance requirements, with students initially allowed to take their classes at their own pace without having to be on their computers for a specific time to attend classes. virtual.

This has changed this semester, she said, with at least 30 minutes of live instruction required daily for each student, but this was not communicated to students until the start of the semester and could be a reason for which more students fail – since a certain number of absences lead to automatic failure.

Other Options

If the program is dissolved, HCS Flex, which has been available since 2011 for high school students wishing to supplement their in-person classes with online classes, will remain available, Bourcier said. There are also seven free online charter schools in the state, the district noted in its recommendation to cancel the virtual program.

Teeguarden, who is also a adjunct teacher for VirtualSC, which is one such option, noted that online charter schools don’t tend to offer as much face-to-face time with teachers.

Superintendent Rick Maxey stressed during Monday’s presentation that teachers deserve no blame for the shortcomings of the virtual curriculum, according to MyHorryNews, but the elementary teacher said district officials have not met with teachers meetings to discuss barriers and possible improvements.

Bourcier responded that “ongoing support and interventions for students and teachers were provided throughout the school year.”

Virtual teachers often discuss issues with the program and possible improvements, the teachers said. While a final decision won’t be made for at least a month, scrapping the program altogether isn’t necessarily the answer, they said.

“We are taught to reflect on our teaching, our pedagogy, our management, on everything, so that we can improve and be better teachers,” said the primary school teacher. “Why isn’t this the solution? Why don’t we think about what’s not working and try to do better? »

Mary Norkol covers housing and homelessness for The Sun News through Report for America, an initiative that boosts local news coverage. She joined The Sun News in June 2020 after graduating from Loyola University Chicago. She served as editor of the Loyola Phoenix, leading the paper to first place in its Illinois College Press Association Overall Excellence category. Norkol has won awards in the areas of podcasting, multimedia reporting, in-depth reporting and in-depth reporting from CAPI. While in college, she reported breaking news for the Daily Herald and interned at the Chicago Sun-Times and CBS Chicago.

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Investigative projects reporter David Weissman joined The Sun News in 2018 after three years working at the York Dispatch in Pennsylvania, and he won awards from the South Carolina Press Association and Keystone Media for his investigative reporting on topics such as health, business, politics and education. He graduated from the University of Richmond in 2014.