Pam Dudding-Burch Contributing writer
The primary goal of the program is to keep at-risk students in school and working towards their diploma requirements. The most recent data from the Virginia Department of Education lists a 2.2 percent dropout rate for Craig County Public Schools. “The opening of the Digital Academy will ensure that all CCPS students have the opportunity to learn in a personalized environment that promotes academic, social, emotional and personal success,” stated Jeanette Warwick, CCPS Superintendent.
Rachel Wheeler, the facilitator of CCDA, is currently working with ten students, ranging from grades 7-12, in the inaugural program. “I am very excited and pleased for this new program,” she said. “It gives kids an opportunity to thrive at academics outside of a traditional classroom setting, in a way that works best for them.”
Rachel Wheeler, also a teacher in CCPS, was chosen for the position. “I was working as an instructional assistant in the elementary school when I was asked if I would be interested in moving to this program,” Wheeler shared. “I was sad to leave my fourth and fifth graders, but eager for the new opportunity.”
Computer instruction is featured for the students who are working at their own pace and interest levels. The APEX program, a virtual learning school, is the primary program utilized by CCDA.
The CCPS maintenance crew, headed by Denny Williams, worked over the Christmas break to complete the on-campus building. Renovations and remodeling projects included electrical and technological updates, structural repairs and the acquisition of classroom furniture. The crew was recognized for their efforts in establishing the Craig County Digital Academy facility at the February meeting of the Craig County School Board. Warwick presented them with a certificate and a huge ‘thank you’ for their tireless work.
“We currently have ten students, some are here all day, others for half, and some for a few periods,” Wheeler informed.
Samuel Foster, Director of Instruction and Technology shared that each student is assisted according to their individual needs for success in learning. Wheeler agreed, saying, “One of the main benefits is that each student gets to work in a way that suits them.”
“For example, some of my kids work best by immersing themselves in a single subject each day, for hours at a time and then the next day they switch to a different subject,” Wheeler explained. “Other students work best in short bursts, completing one section and then going to a different one.”
The Board and staff unanimously agreed to pursue this idea of a classroom because they believed that the class allows students to take personal responsibility over their academics and identify how it can work best for them and their needs. “It is also teaching them how to work in an ‘office situation’, being mindful of others around them and not just thinking of themselves,” Wheeler added.
Still, such challenges remain as getting the students on the same page so they can take breaks together. “The students don’t want to be disrespectful if someone is taking a quiz or test, and with a single room coordinating that can be difficult,” Wheeler said.
Another challenge for Wheeler is learning about her students and their needs. “Some student needs include content, note taking technique, time management and test taking skills,” she shared. “Each student is different and I am still getting my bearings on what they need for each subject.”
Still, Wheeler admits that she has had a lot of fun with this new class. “It is exciting to be in an environment that allows students to take charge of their education,” she said. “Seeing students not only succeed academically, but learning life skills such as time management, discipline, how to assess their strengths and weaknesses and then applying that to how they work through their classes is a privilege.”
The faculty and staff at Craig Schools encourage parents and citizens to call to make an appointment to visit the new Digital Academy. “Strides are being taken to provide the students with the best sources and avenues possible for them to succeed in school, which will set their pace out in the working world,” one citizen shared.
Wheeler and the staff continue to ‘tweek’ wherever necessary to make the new class work for the students. Wheeler added, “It is much more than just taking classes, and I hope they see that as well.”