By Megan Kelley
Lake Orion Community Schools presented Dragon Virtual plans for the fall 2021-22 school year at their regularly scheduled board meeting Feb. 10.
There to deliver the presentations were Dragon Virtual Coordinator Nick Coccia and Director of Curriculum Kerri Anderson.
LOCS began working on a virtual learning program in March 2020 when school districts were forced to go fully remote. After receiving feedback from stakeholders, the district announced that they would offer Dragon Virtual for the 2020-21 school year.
“To kick-off, I think the main point that I want to be sure that people understand is that there will be some differences, obviously, from the Dragon Virtual program that we’re currently running to the one that you are going to see that will run in the fall,” said Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Heidi Mercer. “I want to remind everybody that the Dragon Virtual program we’re running currently, we developed in a reactive mode to the pandemic. Which is not where you want to be; you always want to be proactive. That was not the case with this particular situation”
After completing an entire semester of Dragon Virtual, the district is in a position where, in preparing for next year, it can make decisions on program changes in a more “proactive” manner.
According to Mercer, district administration has been working with staff, studied the current program, looked at what other districts are offering and have gathered feedback from students, parents and staff.
“I do think this virtual program pulls out the best elements of virtual formats to make sure that we are meeting the needs of all of our students,” Mercer said.
Coccia explained that the current Dragon Virtual program has been going that at the elementary level.
“At the elementary level, we’ve been having a lot of really nice success with our current program,” Coccia said. “After gathering all the feedback…we’ve really come to realize that the Dragon Virtual program at the elementary level is working, and it’s working very well. And it will continue to look like that into the 2021-22 school year.”
Elementary Dragon Virtual will be offered for kindergarten through fifth grade, with class sizes similar to in-person sections. Families will be asked to make the full-year commitment and returning to in-person from Dragon Virtual will require administrative approval.
For the 2021-22 school year, Dragon Virtual is expected to maintain the same curriculum as in-person learners, with core and specials being taught by LOCS teachers.
Students will have live, daily virtual classes along with asynchronous learning — much like the schedule now.
At the elementary level, if student enrollment is minimal, core and/or specials could be taught by a third party or may not even run at all.
Parents are expected to have the opportunity to enroll their student into Dragon Virtual from May 3-7 online and in August students will receive their teacher assignments.
“Very similar to elementary, we gathered the feedback from our parents, our students and our staff and there aren’t going to be too many differences between 2020-21 and this year,” Coccia said.
Middle school Dragon Virtual instruction for the 2021-22 school year will involve live instruction five days a week in core areas. Asynchronous electives will be done through Pearson Connexus with LOCS teachers acting as mentors.
Dragon Virtual at the middle school level will be offered to sixth through eighth-grade with class sizes that are similar to in-person classes.
Students will select a full year of courses but transferring from Dragon Virtual to in-person will only occur at the semester and will require administrative approval.
Course sign-up will occur February – March. By March 17, students and families will have to make their commitment to Dragon Virtual during the scheduling process.
Dragon Virtual at the high school level has undergone several changes, unlike the middle or elementary levels.
Lake Orion High School students in Dragon Virtual will participate in synchronous learning with live instruction incorporated multiple times throughout the school week, including electives. Their meeting schedule will correspond with the in-person schedule. However, asynchronous work will be incorporated on non-meeting days.
Third-party instruction will only occur in specific situations, district officials noted.
Dragon Virtual for the high school will be offered to ninth through twelfth grades, with scheduling in February through March. The commitment to Dragon Virtual must be made by March 18. Students will receive their schedule in August.
Plans for learning options are a bit more fluid than that of other levels. This particular program will allow students to either be full-time or part-time Dragon Virtual participants, depending on what fits the student’s individual schedule.
“Two of the major components of Dragon Virtual at Learning Options is flexibility and individualization,” said Kristin Sliwinkski, supervisor of Learning Options. “Because of that, we’re offering full- or partial-day virtual learning courses. Really, the goal is for learning options students to be able to create a daily schedule that really meets their individual needs and customize their experience.”
Dragon Virtual will be offered in Learning Options grades nine through twelve; however, decisions for Dragon Virtual will take place between the students and admin/staff to create the schedule that works best for the student.
The commitment will be made on a semester, or term, basis.
Students who are applying for learning options will be able to indicate what kind of schedule they hope to have. The application is available starting March 1 and due on May 4. Students will know if they’re accepted into the program on May 14. Afterward, students, parents and staff will have scheduling meetings from May 17 to June 18. Students will receive their official schedule in August.
Students across all levels will occasionally be required to attend in-person for state and local assessment tests.
Students will also be required to attend live instruction, turn in daily assignments and maintain communication with their teacher.
Depending on enrollment, there is a potential for students to be added to a waitlist if there is not room in a virtual class. Currently, district administration is expecting to have one section per grade level.
“That’s kind of like our shot in the dark,” Mercer said. “Depending on the numbers. Again, this is all dependent upon the scheduling process and who registers for Dragon Virtual but that is kind of our target. If we go over that, if we have enough for two sections, we’ll run two sections. If we get two and we’re two sections full but then we’re only, let’s say 10, we have 10 for third-grade for another section, that’s where we would have to take a waitlist for those 10.”
Another noted change is the requirement to keep computer cameras on when participating in live instruction in Dragon Virtual. This is a change that has been made across all grade levels.
“Cameras need to be on when participating in live instruction,” Coccia said. “It’s worse as we get up into our older students, just feeling like they can be present in front of the computer with the camera off. But we’re actually going to be requiring that next year. We need to be actually seeing our students and knowing that they’re attending and present for that lesson.”
Coccia also spoke to the kinds of students that would thrive in an online environment.
“As we shift toward providing the best opportune learning environment for our student’s outside of the pandemic, we can start to focus on the qualities of our students that really work well in this particular environment,” said Coccia.
The district is looking specifically for students who are self-motivated, disciplined, computer literate, flexible, adaptable and task oriented.
The district would also reserve the right to move students who are under-performing back to in-person from Dragon Virtual should that be necessary.
Additionally, Dragon Virtual students will still be able to participate in extracurricular activities at their assigned neighborhood school. This includes athletics, dances and clubs.