UNDATED -- As the school year approaches, confusion lingers.

Minnesota school districts, armed with county public health data, will collaborate with the state Health and Education departments to determine whether fall classes will be in-person, online or a hybrid of the two. They’ll also have the ability to become more or less restrictive throughout the school year, depending on the virus.

But for the students enrolled at Minnesota Virtual Academy, the fall will be business as usual.

Minnesota Virtual Academy (MNVA), headquartered in Houston, Minn. is a completely online, K-12 public school. The school, founded in 2001, offers full-time online education for grades K-8, and full or part-time enrollment for grades 9-12.

While the school is part of the Houston school system, MNVA students and teachers are from all over the state. They enroll for "myriad reasons," says Head of School Kris Abraham.

“In some cases, the parents want the flexibility of that online curriculum,” she said. “In other cases, they want to have a little more control over students’ days. In some cases they really like the rigor of the curriculum.”

Abraham says 344 more students are enrolled at MNVA for the fall than at this time last year, which is a roughly 25-percent increase. The number of COVID-19 cases tracked at the county level will affect whether students of traditional schools will attend in-person classes or learn from home, and Abraham says that’s generated quite a bit of interest in MNVA.

“There are parents reaching out to me, saying they want the consistency that MNVA will provide,” Abraham said. “As a parent, knowing that every two weeks, the level of instruction could change, that’s rather daunting. Everybody has the Minnesota Department of Health linked on their websites now, so we can be constantly watching our 14-day county numbers to see what we need to switch into as far as our learning mode.”

“As a parent, I can’t imagine planning for that, knowing that it could be one bad report, and all of your planning is out the window because school has to change,” she added.

Abraham, who is also the superintendent of Houston Public Schools, believers schools did a commendable job adapting to the concerns presented by COVID-19 last spring, given the fact that their curriculum isn’t designed to be delivered completely online.

“For Minnesota’s traditional schools, it was an Apollo 13 moment, and they really did a great job in a short amount of time,” Abraham says. “I think a lot of people learned they really enjoyed learning at a computer. Distance learning was basically trying to retrofit face-to-face, brick and mortar learning into an online venue. With online learning at MNVA, the curriculum has been entirely designed to be delivered online. The teachers have been trained to really teach in that online world.”

MNVA’s classes are hosted by the interactive virtual platform Illuminate, and Abraham says she’s witnessed the younger students pick up technology as quickly as older students.

“We still have classes, and students are logging in and getting to know their classmates,” she said. “They’re able to have to live, synchronous lessons. Students as young as kindergarten learn how to grab the microphone, how to write on the whiteboard. Once they’re in a breakout room, they know how to work in small groups.”

“I’ve watched, and within the first two months of school, it’s amazing to watch our littlest students function so adeptly.”

MNVA’s first day of classes is September 8. Abraham says they will be enrolling students through September 1, and will reopen enrollment at the beginning of October.

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