Niobrara hosts WYVA graduation

Phillip Collins
Posted 5/22/24

NIOBRARA - American journalist Sydney Harris once said, “The purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.”

And, the graduating class of Wyoming Virtual Academy (WYVA) opened the window to their future last Friday. Proud parents, supportive siblings, and festive friends gathered at the Niobrara County High School Auditorium to congratulate a total of 51 students graduating from the statewide virtual academy. WYVA is a state-subsidized, fully accredited education program hosted by Niobrara County School District No. 1. According to 9-12 Principal Jennifer Copeland, the academy’s online model provides students with a greater degree of pliability than a traditional, brick-and-mortar school.      

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Niobrara hosts WYVA graduation

Posted

NIOBRARA - American journalist Sydney Harris once said, “The purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.”

And, the graduating class of Wyoming Virtual Academy (WYVA) opened the window to their future last Friday. Proud parents, supportive siblings, and festive friends gathered at the Niobrara County High School Auditorium to congratulate a total of 51 students graduating from the statewide virtual academy. WYVA is a state-subsidized, fully accredited education program hosted by Niobrara County School District No. 1. According to 9-12 Principal Jennifer Copeland, the academy’s online model provides students with a greater degree of pliability than a traditional, brick-and-mortar school.      

“Our students are all virtual,” Copeland said. “So, they’re all over the state of Wyoming. They attend live classes with our teachers and work through the curriculum online. They get a little more flexibility, but they still have the teachers to work one-on-one with.”

Copeland explained that this model is more conducive to the requirements of working students and rurally-situated youths.  

“A lot of students do it because they work or live on ranches and need more flexibility,” said Copeland. “We have students who are athletes and travel quite a bit. So, it just gives enough flexibility for them to do other things throughout the day.”

With the arrival of the global pandemic, several schools had to shut down, thereby impeding the education of an entire generation. In hopes of circumventing this obstacle, some school districts implemented distance learning programs. Yet, for WYVA, no such revision was necessary. Since the program was already virtual, it was business as usual for the academy. In fact, according to Executive Director Dr. Joe Heywood, attendance increased.

“We’re kind of around 600 students statewide, grades K through 12,” Heywood said. “During COVID, we doubled to 1200 students just because there were so many kids who wanted to stay home.”

For some of the academy’s COVID-era attendees, the detour into virtual learning turned into a permanent stay.   

“So many people came to us during COVID and just ended up really liking the situation,” said Copeland.

Heywood added, “It’s just a different model of learning that some kids really connect with and it’s a benefit to them”. 

WYVA has been in existence for 15-years. Over that period of time, the academy has produced several students who have moved on to higher levels of academic achievement. 

“We’ve had students get some really good scholarships,” Copeland said. “A lot of them go to really big universities. We definitely have some students who go on to do some higher things.”

Indeed, there are many high achievers numbered among the WYVA students, as is evidenced by a perusal of the class of 2024. This year’s class boasts the likes of Salutatorian Ashlee Southall and Valedictorian Douglas Campbell. Campbell has been in the program since the fourth grade. In fact, all of Campbell’s siblings are either presently enrolled or are alumni of the academy. This family tradition of virtual learning began with Campbell’s older sister, who started her WYVA journey in the fifth grade. D’Ron Campbell, Douglas’ mother, elaborated on the appeal of the WYVA model.

“It could seem to be daunting to parents when they’re looking at it,” said D’Ron. “When I was looking at homeschooling options, you had to create your own curriculum. With WYVA, it’s all done for you. All of the teachers have classes, except they’re online. They talk to the class. They teach them.”

Campbell’s father, Jason, stated that WYVA’s nontraditional model of learning necessitated some adjustments. In particular, D’Ron and Jason had to become accustomed to the rather truncated daily schedule of a virtual academy.   

“We didn’t know how compact the school day becomes when you don’t have recess or lunch or all those other things,” Jason said. “The earliest class is at eight, but most of them start around nine. They’re usually done by one or two in the afternoon. That’s just because they bang it all out.”

Of course, an unconventional schedule maintained in a domestic setting instead of an academic one can easily derail. According to Jason, assisting the student with time management is one of the chief roles played by parents.

“When they’re home, it’s easy for them to lose track of time,” said Jason. “So, we kind of become timekeepers for them. From time to time, we have to go to them and say something like, ‘Hey, aren’t you supposed to be in class right now? Mrs. Miller isn’t going to be happy.’ The positive aspect is that you’re there and you’re very much involved and very much on top of it and you know what they’re doing all day long.”

The growing popularity of online academies notwithstanding, there will likely always be a place for traditional brick-and-mortar schools. Nevertheless, it is Heywood’s conviction that WYVA has cemented its place in the academic world.

“Parents love it, especially for those kids who just needed something different,” Heywood said. “I don’t think it [WYVA] will ever replace brick-and-mortar schools and we don’t want it to. That’s not what it’s for, but there are hundreds of thousands of students in online programs across the country now. So, it is here to stay and it is growing. So, we need both. We need the brick-and-mortar for those kids who thrive and we need online learning for kids who thrive there.”

Those who wish to learn more about WYVA can do so by visiting https://wyva.k12.com/.