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This week, educators across the country, including many in Iowa, are celebrating Digital Learning Day. You may not have heard of this observance before, but it’s an important one to recognize as the world continues to grapple with the new reality of life amid the pandemic.
Created ten years ago, Digital Learning Day aims to expand awareness for opportunities to learn via digital tools, whether inside or outside a traditional brick-and-mortar classroom. This past year, however, many families found themselves using digital learning tools more frequently than ever before. And while online learning is powerful and effective, the overnight shift from full-time in-person schooling to full-time distance learning—brought on by an unexpected crisis—proved challenging for many students.
As a principal at a full-time online public school for more than eight years, I’ve had the opportunity to experience the value that digital innovation has brought to the education sector. Children and adults alike have resources at their fingertips that allow them to learn in ways that had been unimaginable to past generations. Over the past two decades, educators have been gradually implementing technology tools to expand learning opportunities and better monitor student success.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, digital learning tools became a critical need overnight. The shift to emergency distance learning forced educators to quickly evolve and standup new technologies to keep students learning, often taking a trial-and-error approach to improve curriculum and teaching processes for students and families. As we have all witnessed, this shift was not without monumental challenges and, in some cases, created learning gaps for students. Many students and parents have discovered that this crisis distance learning model does not work for them due to their family circumstances or their student’s learning style.
Unfortunately, this frustration with a forced learning-at-home model has resulted in a tendency to equate distance learning with the full-time online learning model that has benefitted many students and their families for years. In a recent training webinar with other online educators, some of my colleagues expressed how often they had heard in recent months the sweeping generalization that full-time online education does not work. This full dismissal of this learning model is disappointing and is a disservice to students, especially because I’ve seen firsthand so much evidence to the contrary. Full-time online schools are equipped with a learning portal and a curriculum that have been specially built for an online learning environment and tested to ensure positive learning outcomes. Furthermore, teachers at full-time online schools are trained to teach in an online setting in a way that values both the learning experience and each student’s social and emotional wellbeing.
In the past eight years working in the full-time online environment, my biggest takeaway is that every student is unique, and no two students learn or absorb lessons in the same way. I’ve witnessed students enroll in our full-time online school and flourish, despite having struggled in their previous brick-and-mortar environment. This might be because the student is ahead or behind in the classroom, faces health challenges, or simply seeks a more flexible approach to his or her learning schedule. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we’ve had students enroll in our school who ultimately decided that full-time online learning was not the best fit for them or their family.
As both an educator and parent, I understand how difficult this past year has been. However, as we honor Digital Learning Day and reflect on all that has happened within K-12 education since March 2020, I urge my fellow Iowans not to dismiss the power of online education entirely. We can use these lessons from the past year to continue to improve education, and ultimately provide more learning options, for our state’s youngest residents.
Iowa Connections Academy seeing an increase in enrollment applicationsBrauer said these are tough times, but he remains optimistic. “I can assure families across the state of Iowa that we have so many passionate educators that really truly are wanting to do what is absolutely the best for students. This is unprecedented times and so naturally with that does come some uncertainty and that is where a little level of panic certainly starts to creep in, but I’m very optimistic for this upcoming school year. I think this is going to cause greater partnerships than ever before between students and teachers, families and educators and administrators, and I think together and collectively we’re going to overcome these times here and we’re going to end up strengthening the system as a whole. I just asked for grace from all of the families across Iowa and for educators and to have patients with families and vice versa. I think this has the ability for us to overcome in ways that we may not have anticipated early on.”
Iowa Connections Academy opens enrollment for 2021-22 school yearIowa Connections Academy, a tuition free online public school, is now enrolling students for the 2021-2022 school year. Available to students in grades K-12 across Iowa, the school accommodates the needs of learners through unique curriculum opportunities, close-knit collaboration with fellow students and staff, supportive teachers and the flexibility to learn from anywhere with an Internet connection. “Iowa Connections Academy continues to demonstrate high rates of student and parent satisfaction, despite the challenges we faced this year with the pandemic,” shared Dr. James Brauer, Iowa Connections Academy school principal. “We are looking forward to enrolling new students seeking an established full-time online school to fulfill their academic and personal potential.”
Iowa Connections Academy Opens Enrollment for 2020-2021 School YearIowa Connections Academy, a tuition-free online public school of the CAM Community School District, is now accepting new students for the 2020-2021 school year. Available to students in grades K-12 across Iowa, the school accommodates the needs of modern learners through unique curriculum opportunities, close-knit collaboration with fellow students and staff, supportive teachers and the flexibility to learn from anywhere with an internet connection.
One of Iowa’s ‘virtual’ public schools may see fall enrollment surge(Anita) — An online academy associated with a southwest Iowa school district has seen a significant increase in interest from parents exploring education options during the pandemic. Dr. James Brauer, the principal of the Iowa Connections Academy, one of two “virtual” public schools in the state, said in July alone, 300 applications were submitted for K-12 students living in other districts around the state…
Local students graduate from Iowa Connections Academy“Our 2020 graduating class is an extraordinary group of ambitious students who have shown nothing but resilience during these unprecedented times,” said Dr. James Brauer, principal at Iowa Connections Academy. “With the support of our experienced teachers and staff, I’m confident these students are prepared academically, socially, and emotionally to take on any and all future endeavors. I wish them the very best on this next chapter of their lives.”
Iowa City musician says going online high school route helped her get to Juilliard
Schedule flexibility is a draw for many of the Iowa Connections Academy’s students, said James Brauer, the principal of the K-12 school. “It’s a very unique and awesome experience,” Brauer said. “Now we can work with students, from a curricular and instructional standpoint, to meet their needs as opposed to what that traditional model requires them to operate in.”
Virtual Schools a Promising Alternative in Rural Areas“We consider ourselves an Iowa school,” Connections Academy Principal James Brauer said during a tour of the Anita school building last week. “We will do everything the Iowa codes indicate are the expectations of an Iowa school. Even with our own company, I’ve made it very, very clear, we are more of an Iowa school more than we are a (Connections Academy) school.”
With Mixed Results, Iowa Virtual School Looks To Expand“We know that for a student to attend an online model, there has to be a learning coach, a caretaker, a parent that’s available at home, especially at those elementary ages,” the Journal quoted Principal James Brauer as saying about his decision to send his own children to brick-and-mortar schools. “Because of that and because we still want to be great parents, but we also have professional goals, I don’t know if we could.”
Virtual school offers freedom
A quality virtual school program offers students a rigorous curriculum, dedicated and certified teachers, cutting-edge technology resources, clubs, activities and more. Yet one feature of virtual schools is often misunderstood: asynchronous learning — when a student engages curriculum on his or her own time and pace….