Some completely virtual schools, like Oklahoma Connections Academy and Epic Charter Schools, have seen an increase in student enrollment and teacher hires amidst the pandemic.
Student enrollment at the academy has increased 67 percent this year, officials said.
There are 38 students from Yukon, and 19 from Mustang.
The academy also hired five more teachers to help keep up with enrollment.
The academy is a kindergarten through 12th-grade school.
Last year, the academy began team-teaching and looping for kindergarten through sixth grade, where two teachers help one another with areas, like sharing lessons.
Once students reach seventh grade and beyond, they have a different teacher for each subject.
The academy also has live lessons, where teachers can pre-record themselves for their class or if one student is having trouble, they can view the live lesson and see the teacher’s explanation, academy Principal Melissa Gregory said.
“It’s like your teacher is sitting right next to you,” said Gregory.
Most its teachers work 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. However, their schedules are flexible so they are available when the students need help, she said.
Gregory said it’s important for teachers to be adaptable because online learning can offer more one-on-one interaction between teachers and students.
“(The students) feel a little safer, and maybe a little bit more like they can speak up because they’re not in a room with 39 of their peers,” Gregory said.
She also said families who are concerned with leaving their children home alone to complete their online schooling have options, such as learning pods.
Learning pods allow some former educators and/or caregivers to meet with students to help them with their lessons.
“It’s really all about thinking outside the box,” Gregory said.
Epic is a pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade public school. It is the largest school district in the state and had 32,406 students last year.
As of Sept. 30, Epic has 61,364 students.
Of those, 1,735 are from Yukon and 486 are from Mustang.
Last year, the school had 1,107 teachers. This year, 1,718 teachers are employed.
Each student receives $1,000 as part of the school’s Learning Fund, which can be spent on “school-related goods and services,” according to Epic’s student and parent handbook.
Epic’s website also says the purpose of the Learning Fund is for “individual curricula choice.”
Special education teacher Traci Reimer taught for less than a year at Epic in 2018.
“I was not happy,” said Reimer.
Before starting at Epic, Reimer taught from 2007 to 2018 at Mustang Public Schools.
Reimer said she left Mustang because of flexibility and more pay offered at Epic.
At Epic, Reimer had a mix of special education and other students, all of whom she had to teach each core subject to.
Each student had an individual curriculum plan.
Managing time was a challenge, and often that mean an 80- to 90-hour work week, she said.
Another challenge Reimer said she faced was only seeing her students in person once a week.
Teachers can meet with students more often; however, that is difficult, she said.
“With the hours I had in a day, I couldn’t make it work,” Reimer said. “I couldn’t do what I was supposed to do, and I didn’t feel like it was good for kids. I didn’t feel like I was good for kids in that environment. It was so stressful.”
She said Epic administrators tried to encourage her that she would adjust to the schedule.
“I felt very isolated, even though I think (Epic has) good intentions for connecting you,” Reimer said.
Reimer said she constantly struggled with feeling like she wasn’t connected with the students.
“Everybody does everything, there’s no specialization by grade or by content,” said Reimer. “That was my first problem.”
While Reimer has at least 15 certifications, she said she’s not qualified to teach high school science. However, at Epic, teachers have pre-kindergarten through high school students.
“You can’t say you only want one or the other,” Reimer said.
She began with five students and ended somewhere between 30 and 40.
“You get paid based on how many kids you have, so if it’s your job, you kind of have to have a lot,” Reimer said.
She also said younger teachers, who have only taught virtually, may be more equipped with what Epic offers.
Reimer said she has comfortably settled back in the physical classroom at Mustang.
Mustang High School senior Raine Lemer said learning virtually for the first time has been difficult, but she tries to look on the bright side.
“Doing work online has taught me responsibility, patience; and the challenge is preparing me for college,” said Lemer. “I trust God, and I know we will all be successful through these obstacles.”
For Mustang resident Janet Mercer, all students should return to the classroom fulltime.
“This is how virtual learning is going at my house: I look out the kitchen window and (the children) are out there on the golf cart pulling a mattress around the backyard at 1 p.m. when (they) should be doing school work,” said Mercer.
Mercer has two grandchildren, whom she watches.
She has one granddaughter, who was a freshman at MHS and one grandson, who is in the sixth grade at Mustang Horizon Intermediate.
Her granddaughter was initially enrolled in the high school’s virtual academy, however, that lasted about three days because of technical difficulties with logging on to the learning management platform, Mercer said.
She is now enrolled in Epic.
Mercer’s grandson originally was enrolled in an online format but switched to traditional because he missed in-person social interaction.