(By Brandon Hansen/The Independent Staff)
Alternative education in the state of Washington has taken many different forms over the years. Once just a program in another building, a growing number of options are now available for parents and their kids. Columbia Virtual Academy (CVA), which is headquartered in Valley, has seen a growing demand for their type of alternative education.
In Washington, CVA is the only statewide, all public, shared, Alternative Learning Experience (ALE) program. Founded over a decade ago, CVA is the result of the Valley School District anticipating the need for a statewide ALE program. In 2004, state legislation changed alternative education options for K-12 students. Smaller school districts didn’t have the means to develop their own distance-learning programs so they reached out to the Valley School District. The program is now a partnership of nine school districts across the state of Washington. CVA is fully self-supporting and operates without relying on local levy dollars.
CVA’s mission is to partner with parents who take an active role in their student’s education. “We believe that parents are the first and most important educators of their children and we want to help them and their children be successful,” CVA director Dennis Killmer said. “CVA is not a program where even the most independent learner can be left alone to work without parental support and guidance.”
Working closely with CVA teachers, parents of K-8 students deliver daily lessons, monitor student progress, plan and navigate the daily academic schedule, make sure work is complete, assist with grading, and prepare students for assessments. Middle school students have the option of enrolling in online classes and high school classes are all online.
Learning plans are customized to meet individual student needs, ranging from highly capable to remediation. Students are also allowed to make up missed credits and request class schedules that compliment learning styles and family schedules.
Each CVA teacher serves the needs of 40-45 students and their parents. CVA teachers are certified by Washington State and are available via phone, email and over the Internet. CVA teachers develop close relationships with their families and this one-on-one aspect is difficult to achieve in a traditional school setting.
Unlike most for-profit ALE programs, CVA hires local teachers and provides benefit packages. “We’re all public, so our funding goes right back to students and staff,” Killmer said. “Some for-profit ALE programs are now requiring students and teachers to be online at the same time and that does not work for everyone. Distance learning was never intended to be a virtual replica of a traditional school and a number of these families are coming to us for that reason.”
Alternative education is often characterized as a program for troubled students, but in reality there are numerous families who want something different than what traditional public schools have to offer.
Some of the reasons why parents chose ALE over traditional schools are more ownership of student learning, special needs and highly capable students, family commitments, concerns with resident schools, bullying and social engineering concerns.
So while Valley is a small town, it’s doing big things statewide by offering a unique public school experience unmatched anywhere else.