© 2024. Randolph Hub. All Rights Reserved.


Rather learn online? Try Virtual Academy Randolph

Emi Maerz
Randolph Hub


ASHEBORO – More than three years after the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual learning is alive and well at Randolph County Schools’ Virtual Academy Randolph (VAR).


The academy — which opened in the summer of 2021 — is entering its third year of instruction this fall.


Principal Justine Carter said the school opened because of prolonged uncertainty and health concerns surrounding COVID-19.


“But after that, a lot of kids and families just realized they enjoyed learning virtually,” she said. “It worked for their schedule, it worked for their child’s needs.”


The school’s kindergarten through eighth grade classes operate similarly to in-person RCS classes — except students’ work is completely virtual.


The academy follows the same schedule guidelines as any other school in the RCS system. A student’s day is set up in Google Calendar by their teacher. Each morning, they use the calendar to access links to video calls — where live instruction and interaction take place. Once students demonstrate mastery of a concept, they move onto more independent work, Carter said.


“We all went into education because we love to teach,” Carter said. “We’re passionate about a subject — we want to share that with students. And so it was very important for us that we still have that interaction with kids, that we still build those relationships.”


Live instruction and creation of the curriculum, Carter said, can be very challenging in a virtual environment.


Teachers at VAR have to use innovative websites and technologies like Pear Deck or Kami to make every assignment or document interactive. “A lot of people will tend to have this perception that virtual teaching is easier because you’re just sitting, but it’s so much harder because you have to have a visual for everything,” Carter said. “Everything has to be visually appealing for the kids.”


Teachers have to remain regimented in routines, policies and procedures for their students in order to reduce distraction from outside video calls and virtual activities, Carter said.


Students receive a crate of all of the virtual learning tools they will need for the year before school starts — including a Chromebook, math workbook and whiteboards with dry erase markers.


“It’s really awesome to see because our kindergarteners have it down pat,” she said. “I’ve never seen 5-year-olds with more time and task management.”


The flexibility of schedule and environment at VAR works well for the school’s 96 enrolled students, Carter said. Students with high anxiety, specific medical needs or travel obligations particularly benefit.


The school has even picked up a few families who homeschooled previously, Carter said.


Students also stay together through each year of education at VAR, which creates a “familial” atmosphere.


“You find your niche because you’re with other people who are choosing the same option,” Carter said.


The teachers share office spaces in VAR’s facility next to Tabernacle Elementary School.


Enrollment for the 2023-24 school year is open now until Aug. 1. Walk-ins at VAR’s office are welcome.


“I am hoping that we can build it enough where it sustains, because it does help kids,” Carter said. “Not all kids need this option, but the ones who do, need it to get to their finish line.”


— To sign up or to just learn more about VAR Randolph, visit varandolphnc.schoolinsites.com.