Flex time for students PVUSD Distance Learning Academy offers schooling anytime, anywhere
by Elka Worner
The Palos Verdes Unified School District is taking one of the more contentious aspects of pandemic life – the online classroom – and turning it into an opportunity for motivated students to experience the freedom and flexibility of full-time remote learning.
Approximately 50 K-12 students have enrolled for the first year of the Palos Verdes Distance Learning Academy.
“Some students did better during Covid, because of virtual learning, and their families have decided this type of program is a better fit,” said Brett Egan, principal of the Distance Learning Academy. “A lot of parents didn’t want their kids going to school, and another subset did not want their kids to wear masks.”
Flexibility and independence are hallmarks of the program. Of course, older students will enjoy more independence than their younger counterparts.
The 20 students in kindergarten through the fifth grade will log on each day for live instruction from a pair of district teachers. After two hours of “class time,” they will work at their own pace until lunch break. The young pupils spend their afternoons in individualized meetings, participating in small group instruction, or engaging in assessments.
“There aren’t any assemblies, or breaks built in throughout the day, and not much transition time,” Egan said. “It’s a lot more efficient,”
For middle and high school, the academy has partnered with APEX Virtual Learning School, a UC and NCAA approved program.
Students in sixth through eighth grades select their own start times, check in daily, and work at their own pace.
“Students usually take five classes, and we say it’s about an hour per subject. So they need to carve that out of their day,” Egan said.
Students have a mentor teacher assigned to each class for individualized support. They’ll check in just once a week as they work through the curriculum.
That level of independence is important for students with other important commitments.
One Distance Learning Academy student is a tennis player who competes internationally in Argentina and France.
Another travels frequently with a ballet academy. “It wasn’t conducive for her to stay at one of our comprehensive schools,” Egan said.
The program also accommodates students eager to start earning college units. They can complete their classes at Palos Verdes Unified while also earning credits at El Camino or Harbor colleges.
“High performing school districts have typically not offered comparable online schools,” said Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Alex Cherniss. “It is our goal to serve families and students who choose homeschool or alternative education models with our new online program.”
Distance learning can be isolating, so the academy connects with other district schools for sports and extracurriculars. That’s enough socializing for some students, but not for everybody.
“The students who benefit most from this program are the most motivated,” Egan said.
Students who are easily distracted by video games, social media, and online videos would probably fare better in a traditional classroom setting, he said.
“Ultimately we want students who want to be here,” he said. “It’s a school of choice.” Pen