OC Virtual: Two Years In

By: Alexander Schott

OC Virtual is an online learning option the Oak Creek-Franklin Joint School District offers all K-12 students. This alternative learning arrangement resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. It’s a third-party program run through Edmentum, but all students remain enrolled in the district, and are still associated with their neighborhood school. This means that OC Virtual students are able to join any club or sport that in-person learners are able to be involved with.

The program was first introduced in 2021. While COVID-19 certainly accelerated its launch, the program was long in the making. According to Mrs. Kimberly Leannais, the sophomore associate principal at Oak Creek High School and building liaison for the program, the district had been looking for alternative learning opportunities for quite awhile. Its launch was timely and gave students and their parents an online choice in response to reopening concerns.

All students K-12 are eligible for OC Virtual, but whether it’s right for a particular student depends on their learning style and personal situation. Students and their counselors first need to consider motivational and organizational habits. Because the program is entirely self-paced, these behavioral traits are important for a student to be successful in the program. The self-paced nature also opens opportunities for students who aren’t able to meet the demands of a traditional high school schedule. For example, students who travel frequently—whether it be for sports or personal reasons—make up a large portion of OC virtual attendees.

Another reason why some students choose OC Virtual is for mental health reasons. The program offers a good option for students who suffer from anxiety, depression, behavioral issues, or other mental health issues. 

Leannais cites the freedom of the program as being both appealing and successful for certain students, saying, “we have a number of students that we’ve moved from in-person to OC Virtual and they’re performing significantly better.”

Just because it’s self-paced, however, doesn’t mean students are totally on their own. The program gives suggested due dates and pairs students with teachers and learning coaches to make sure they have all the resources needed to stay on track. Office hours, 1-1 instruction, and check-ins are available to students. In addition, attendance is taken on a weekly basis and is calculated by the amount of time students spend on their coursework.

A major concern for many parents is whether the quality of virtual education is up to par. According to Leannais, “the quality of learning is what the students put into it. Just like in an in-person class, if someone wanted to get all of the answers from somebody else… it’s the same thing virtually.”

Another parent concern is how virtual education affects college admissions. For many students, getting into a good college is an important. Admissions, especially now, don’t only consider the numbers on the transcript, but include the person behind the name. Clubs, activities, sports, and volunteering are essential to standing out during the admissions process, and sets apart the OC Virtual program from other online learning options. Since OC Virtual students are still part of the OCFSD, they are able to take advantage of in-person aspects like sports, clubs, and other extracurriculars.

OC Virtual enrollees in high school from the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years.

The graphic above shows that the number of OC Virtual enrollees dropped significantly from the 2020-21 school year. Sam Amundson, an OC virtual student for the 2020-21 school year, said he opted for virtual learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sam liked the flexibility of the program, but noted several drawbacks. A primary concern was the turnover of teachers.

“A lot of times, the teachers got swapped around. I think I had three different Spanish teachers during my Edmentum year,” Sam revealed. The constant turnover made it impossible for students to build any meaningful connection with educators. This could be a challenge for students who need coaching from their teachers.

All in all, the program is a great option; however, it is only ideal for the right type of student. Those who are interested in enrolling can schedule to meet with their guidance counselor to get more information.

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