Air guitar

WCSD Virtual Academy adds guitar classes and more

Times Observer graphic by Dave Ferry Among the new offerings through Warren County School District Virtual Academy is Guitar I and II. The health and medical field is another popular area. The offerings are expanding every year.

Some students in Warren County School District’s Virtual Academy will be picking and strumming this year.

At the middle level, Middle School Guitar is offered, and Guitar I and II are available for high school students.

The semester courses are offered online, with a school district teacher backing them, according to Virtual Academy Principal Misty Weber.

“I try to make sure we’re offering all different kinds of opportunities,” Weber said.

So, this year, when a new provider included guitar among its offerings, Weber snagged it.

“We have our own learning management system that allows us to bring in multiple vendors,” she said. “Guitar came from a new provider — Method Teacher. This was a chance for us to expand.”

Students do not need to have any guitar-playing experience, but they must have a guitar to take the course.

“They are required to play, record themselves, and send it to the teacher,” Weber said.

The teacher, a Warren County School District music teacher, evaluates and assesses the work.

Most of the district’s music programs are offered in the school buildings. And virtual students who express an interest in music are able to and encouraged to take band and chorus in the schools.

Students do not have to take only virtual classes or only brick-and-mortar classes.

Out of nearly 700 students taking Virtual Academy classes last year, more than 200 were full-time, another 60 to 70 took at least three courses online a day, and the rest were primarily brick-and-mortar school students who filled out their schedules with one or two online classes.

Most Virtual Academy students are Warren County School District students, but the district does have agreements with the Bradford Area and Ephrata districts to provide cyber services to students. Weber said she would like to be able to market the program more and bring in more districts. Those kinds of agreements generate revenue for the district. She said they brought in about $100,000 last year.

In addition to the ability to take classes like band, choir, and orchestra, another advantage of bringing students into the school buildings is that those who are eligible for free or reduced lunches can receive them.

The Virtual Academy offerings are expanding every year.

This year, there are about 250 courses available. Most of those are core courses.

But, the number of electives is catching up. “There were about 35 last year and over 50 this year,” Weber said. “We ask students what they’re interested in.”

One popular area is the health and medical field.

There are non-credit courses available through Virtual Academy, too. “We offer non-credit Pennsylvania and National test prep,” she said. “SAT, ACT, ASVAB, as well as Keystone and PSSA.”

“Teachers have access to it and can incorporate,” she said.

There are art classes — art history, animation, and basic drawing — new programs including paleontology and photo journalism, and even physical education classes.

“Those are backed by a physical education teacher,” Weber said.

With only seven periods in a day in the district’s high schools, there isn’t always enough time to take all the classes some students want.

“This gives them a lot of options,” Weber said.

And, there is a level of rigor that is maintained.

“If they’re not making progress, they have to go back to school,” she said. “Success is our goal.”

For those who can’t get enough guitar, the vendor also offers Guitar III and Guitar IV.