In this episode, Virtual Learning Academy Principal, Lana Beshara, talks about how students are building community within a virtual environment and in-person through field trips and school events.
For more information on the Virtual Learning Academy and access a guidebook a pre-recorded webinar, please visit: Sage Oak Charter Schools
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In today's episode of the Sage Studio, I'm talking with the Virtual Learning Academy principal, Lana Beshara. And recently I have been doing a lot of enrollment webinars with prospective parents or Sage Oak, and their questions about the Virtual Learning Academy really revolve around not only the academic component of the program, but also the community aspect of the program and the connection, that the students can have with one another and with their teacher in a virtual environment. So I wanted to bring Lana on the show to address some of those questions a little bit more specifically and take a deeper dive into the community that is such a big part of the Virtual Learning Academy. We know that when parents are looking for new programs and specifically a virtual or online program, the quality of the online instruction is something that's really important. And so, in this interview, you'll hear how Lana talks about the teachers that are involved in the Virtual Learning Academy. And I can tell you too that I have seen how these teachers are interacting with their students. It's not just a program where students are online using software and following along. They are really talking with teachers, interacting with teachers. The teachers are demonstrating lessons that then the students are working on at home. It's actually pretty interactive and hands on for a virtual environment, and Lana's going to talk about that a little bit. I a second factor that's really important to parents is the infrastructure. How is the day laid out? What is the amount of time that they're sitting in their chairs looking at the screen and what is the amount of time that they have within that virtual environment to just casually interact with students and to get to know their classmates and to get to know their teachers on a different level. So, Lana talks about that aspect as well and how actually it's a lot of that downtime that forms the community that really helps make then the academic interactions within the more structured time possible. We're also going to talk about the supports that are available as far as outside of the classroom to help connect the students and the families that are part of this program. So, Lana's going to speak to some of the community service aspects, the field trip that are available to students on a whole school level where all students of the Virtual Learning Academy are invited to attend, and then also to some of the opportunities that are provided so that just students within one grade level can get to know each other, have some of those shared real world experiences together, and it all comes together to make this really powerful community within this Virtual Learning Academy. So let's get onto this podcast and you can hear Lana explain all the ways that the VLA is building community in their virtual world. Welcome to another episode of Sage Studio. Today I am joined with VLA Principal Lana Beshara. Thanks for joining us, Lana. Thank you for having me. Always good to talk to you and hear what is going on with the Virtual Learning Academy. And today we're really talking about how students of the Virtual Learning Academy connect with other students and feel like they're part of the Sage Oak community. I've had the pleasure of talking with so many prospective parents recently who are looking at, Sage Oak and they're curious about the Virtual Learning Academy program and they want to know more about this incredible program we offer. And they often ask about the connection, right? How do their kids connect online with a teacher? How are they connecting with other kids that are also online learning? How do they connect outside of the online world? So I definitely wanted to bring you on today so we could break that down a little bit more. So let's first start by reviewing the V L A model. Tell us again about. How does a a regular week in the VLA Academy look? Yeah, well, it can look a little parents or students are interested in terms of those Mondays and Fridays. So on Mondays, students can participate in our enrichment Oakschool classes in the morning, and then they can attend the teacher's office hours for any support time Tuesday through Thursday. So we have all of our live classes, so that's when they're getting all of their core instruction. And then those Mondays and Fridays are really more like asynchronous workdays as well. So Fridays they can attend Sage Stage with you, which is really fun. Love that, right? That all school assembly. And then they really have that time, they have that time to do any other work, catch up. And so it provides a lot of flexibility in their schedule, especially because those Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Live synchronous days really just go from9:00-12:
15 if you're TK through fifth to 9:00-12:40 if you're sixth through eighth grade, and then after lunchtime they have an hour of tutoring small groups, kind of that, just that time with our teacher. So in comparison with a regular school day, our kiddos are like ending by 2, 2 30 and they start a little later. So it's just a really nice way for the kids to kind of just have a lot more time to do what they need to do. So we have a lot of people who are athletes and are interested in other various activities and just have a lot more free time to pursue their passions really. It seems to be a structure that's really working well. I mean, when I talk to students that are part of the Virtual Learning Academy or parents that have their kids enrolled, they really do like that structure. They like the idea that Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday is like this core time where they know their students are getting the instruction. From a certificated, Sage Oak teacher and then they like as a parent that they can be a little bit more of a coach in the time outside of that with helping students to finish up work that they're doing or supporting them with projects. And I think that the enrichment opportunities have been really successful too. I have heard that the kids are really loving the time that they can spend in those Oakschool classes or in those clubs, you know, during the time outside of their core instructions. So, sounds like it's winning in all areas over there at the Virtual Learning Academy, which is awesome. I love that. Okay, so let's talk for a little bit about the instruction time. So, Paint a picture for us when students are online during those core days of that Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, is it just a teacher the entire time talking and students are listening and taking notes? Do they get a chance to interact with other students? How does that really work? Yeah, I think that's a great question. So in terms of connection, I think the students just have a ton of time to connect, which is really sweet because the teachers are constantly having them work collaboratively. So whether that's breakout rooms or like partner share, and then I. What is so cute, and especially when I've subbed, is so fun at recess. So like any break time and also lunchtime, especially TK through fifth grade, they will stay on and just chat. It's a virtual playdate and it's fantastic because they're all in their own home, so they're like sharing family members and pets and toys and it is so fun. It's just fantastic. And then for six or eighth, and I would even say upper grades, like they utilize the Google chat. And so we do monitor everything, but it gives them kind of an outlet to connect with each other, and then they'll go and do zoom rooms. I know teachers will do lunch bunches, and there's a lot of opportunity there for the students to connect. It's really not just the teachers speaking at the students, it's. So much more than that. It's very hands-on, project-based, like collaborative learning. And so while the teachers do direct instruction, right, they need to, there is a lot of that embedded and incorporated. And then we do have clubs and so that's another way on Fridays for the students to connect as well, which is fun. We also have some field trips too, so, Trying to paint a picture of what that looks like during the week is just a very diverse way of students to connect with each other, to actually receive the instruction and then also to learn, right? Because they're not just learning whole group, they're learning in small groups, and then they're getting even more attention in that after lunchtime, when they're meeting up with their teacher to get some more specific instruction , if it's needed. It's just such a great way to, I think, serve all different members of this community, right? Like we have some families who homeschooled prior to coming to a charter school environment, and so they're used to working more at home. And so the fact that they are now in a charter school where they can connect with other students a few days a week like that definitely gives them that sense of what does recess feel like? What does this like extra time at lunch feel like when you have these kids that you can connect with? And I think that's also true for a lot of our families who are coming from more of a brick and mortar school background, and they have that experience with recess and that downtime and that chance to socialize at lunch and they can kind of get that here. In this different version. So I'm sure that they really love that as well. And it, it sounds really like the community kind of naturally is evolving because the students are connected. So, so cool to hear that is happening. I know that's really, that's what our parents want to know. They want to know Is that going to be part of this experience? And it so clearly is, and I love that, that you have helped to cultivate an academy where that just is happening so organically for the kids and they're getting to know each other, so, so awesome. I love to hear all about that. Okay. You mentioned field trips, so talk to me. Are there just virtual Academy field trips or do students actually get to connect in person? I get that question all the time. Yeah, I mean, in actual instruction time, teachers will take students on virtual field trips to learn about things, but we do in-person field trips. So once a month we have an all school field trip and it's usually centrally located. So it's on a Friday when they don't have to worry about it conflicting with any instruction. And we just get together, we do something really fun. So we did a service project earlier in the year. We've gone to Medieval Times, we've gone to a farm. We've gone to March Field Air Museum. We went roller skating one time. We went to the Discovery Cube. We are going to Universal Studios this Friday, which is amazing. Amazing. So amazing. We have a huge crowd. We have about half of our students, over 200 students coming, which is really fun and exciting. So we'll have an amazing time. And they got to learn all about like amusement parks beforehand and just making that learning connection, which is fun. And then we have an celebration at the end of the year too, so, which is really sweet. Kind of that week before the last week of school where we'll just get together and have a really great time with all of our teachers and they'll play games, have arts and crafts, which is really fun. And we'll even have a magician from the Magic Castle there, which be really cool. And firemen, they can learn about careers. Just a lot of different things. So field trips once a month, all school, and then in their grade levels they also have a field trip every year as well. And it was so popular that we're going to do two field trips per each grade level next year. That's amazing. Yeah. That's amazing. Yes. The students will have even more opportunities to connect with the kiddos in their classes so, just really fun and neat opportunities for kiddos to connect in those ways in person as well. I love it. Not only do you provide this amazing virtual environment for the students to connect and to learn together, but now you have done such a great job of working with the events team to build in these amazing in-person activities and connection opportunities outside of their virtual world as well, and. You really have been to some amazing field trips this year. And some fun ones too. I think that is just as important sometimes that social connection and just having that fun shared experience with the classmate as well as focusing on the learning bits. It sounds like this Universal Studios is going to be so fun. I know that a lot of our kids, especially when you start talking about like fourth, fifth, sixth grade, like they're talking a lot about energy and inertia and all of the STEM things that gets covered, especially in a virtual environment. When you can take those virtual field trips and dig into some of those concepts, how fun for them to now take that over to a fun amusement park setting and have a great time and. Okay. If you're having 200 students on that field trip, I can only imagine. You have also got plenty of parents and siblings going along too, right? Like how big of a crowd do you think is going? It's over 500. It's, oh my gosh. Yeah, it's incredible. And I do have to say it's not the only amusement field trip either. Like our fourth and fifth graders go and do special programs at Knott's Berry Farm on their grade level trips. I know sixth grade and another grade is doing, I Fly, so the grade level trips are going to some really cool places. They did San Diego Zoo for another one. I mean, we go to some really great places. So the kids have a lot to look forward to. If ever there was a question about is there an opportunity to connect, is there a chance to build community? Is there a chance for in-person activity? I think you've just answered that. Yes. So for sure. I know that our parents are going to be really thrilled to hear about that. Well, Lana, it sounds like you guys are continuing to do incredible things over there at VLA. We are so excited about the way that the program is going and the way that the program is growing and all the ways that you are expanding these connection opportunities as well for next year. So please come back and continue to tell us about all the new things that are happening at V l A. We always love talking with you. Thank you. I'd love to. Thank you so much for having me. Always. All right. We will connect some more information to the bottom of this podcast so that if you would like to find out more information on our Virtual Learning Academy and how you can enroll or some of the events that are coming up, we'll connect you to our website in the show notes. All right. Thanks so much, Lana. I appreciate it. Good to talk to you. Thank you.