The covid-19 pandemic had several unforeseen lessons for American educators, who had to adapt to a wide variety of “classroom settings” that mixed in-person, virtual, and asynchronous instruction.
For some students and parents, learning from home was a stressful and unproductive experience that showed them the value of in-person education.
For others, like Malana Kress, home learning has opened new doors. Norwin’s student pursued it through the Westmoreland Online Academy, a collaboration between the school districts of Norwin, Franklin Regional and Hempfield.
“It made me feel more confident to raise my hand or share my writing,” Kress said. “When I have questions, I now ask the teacher, which I didn’t always ask before at school.”
Formed in response to the pandemic, WOA is made up of more than 100 students from the three districts in kindergarten through fifth grade.
“Coming out of the pandemic, we knew a number of our students wanted a different format of instruction,” Franklin Regional Superintendent Gennaro Piraino said. “We knew that FR alone could not provide this. So to be economical, efficient and provide quality education, we have partnered with Norwin and Hempfield.
Program officials said they aim to expand to middle school and possibly high school levels in the next school year.
Megan Melucci, who teaches fourth grade at WOA, said it had been a “powerful choice” for the pupils – an extension of the feeling she felt when she first started exploring online education possibilities.
“I trained for three years with Discovery Education to become one of their digital ambassadors,” said Melucci, who has taught at Franklin Regional for more than three decades. “It was the most monumental decision I’ve made in my life.”
Discovery’s Digital Ambassador program, which was already in place long before the pandemic, helped train Melucci and others to take their classes and plan them in a digital format.
“It changed the way I teach, it gave me tools I didn’t know existed, and it allowed me to keep learning,” Melucci said.
It also allowed Franklin Regional Discovery Ambassadors to pass on their knowledge to their colleagues in 2020, after home-based learning became the norm for a significant number of students.
“It’s amazing how well prepared FR was because of you and your leadership,” school board superintendent Traci Eshelman Ramey told Melucci this month during a meeting.
Now, with the creation of WOA, Melucci has a group of students who don’t learn online out of necessity – they want to be there.
“I’m very energetic and I learn best when I move,” said Wesley Harper, an elementary student from Hempfield. “I can move around while the professor is teaching, we have breakout rooms where we can chat with our professors, and I’ve had much more success with my writing.”
WOA students work with volunteers from the Franklin Regional National Honors Society once a week, Melucci worked with a senior high school intern who supported and helped students, and this year WOA will feature a virtual team for the Science Olympiad annual to compete alongside the Franklin Regional team of in-person students.
“For me, it was an amazing experience,” Melucci said. “We really love what we do, and it shows.”