ECASD virtual school enrollment numbers grow as online learning gains popularity

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) – With the onset of the pandemic, virtual learning grew as a popular alternative. However, the Eau Claire Area School District started virtual learning before COVID-19 hit.

ECASD launched its virtual school in 2019.

“In the first year, it served students in grades six through 12 and had about 20 students,” Virtual school principal Laura Schlichting said. “In the second year, we expanded to fourth and fifth grade as well. So it was a 4th-12th school with about 60 students.”

As a response to the pandemic and the growing popularity of virtual learning, Schlichting says 200 students across the state in kindergarten through 12th grade are currently enrolled.

“Kindergarten through 5th is being taught by our own Eau Claire Area School District teachers,” Schlichting said. “We use our own curriculum for kindergarten through third, and then our 4th and 5th-grade teachers teach the Pearson curriculum, which is the curriculum that we use that are at our upper levels in grades six through 12.”

Deborah Skalecki joined the virtual school staff last year as a kindergarten and 1st grade.

“I see the level of engagement and connectivity with families as being much stronger,” Skalecki said.

Skalecki says she has seen firsthand how students are benefiting from online learning.

“They’re feeling safe, they’re feeling comfortable, they’re sitting with their pets, maybe their grandma and grandpa,” Skalecki said. “And so there are those connections and seem actually stronger than in-person school.”

Schlichting says families have their own reasons for enrolling their children in virtual school

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“Of course, there are the health and safety reasons and we have a number of families with us for those reasons,” Schlichting said. “But we also see families that have found that the virtual learning option is really a good fit for their family.”

She adds the education and outcome of virtual learning are on par with in-person learning.

“Our graduation requirements, for example, are the same as they are for North or Memorial,” Schlichting said. “So our students are earning the same number of credits in the same areas and so the diploma that graduating seniors receive is the same, the same diploma that our in-person students also receive.”

Schlichting says next year the virtual school will add Eau Claire School district teachers through seventh grade. She also says grades 8th through 12th will still be taught by Pearson, but if enrollment continues to grow, district teachers could be added for those grades as well.

To learn more about Eau Claire Area School Districts’ virtual school, click here.

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