The Power of Remote Community: How Florida Virtual School Served as a Resource for the Nation

By Courtney Calfee
July 13, 2021

As we close the first full school year that many students attended virtually, reflecting on the successes and challenges learners and educators faced during the pandemic is essential to strengthen the education industry as cultural norms around the world continue to shift.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, 93% of U.S. households with school-age children reported they used a form of “distancing learning” this past year, with 80% using online resources to support their learning. As a long-time online school, our Florida Virtual School (FLVS) staff was distraught as we heard reports of many families struggling with remote learning. From years of student success in the online learning environment, we knew that good things could be happening, and we wanted to help!

FLVS Experienced a Surge in Demand During the Early Weeks of the Pandemic

We expected many families to seek our help directly, and we were right. FLVS saw a significant increase in its in-state enrollment for the 2020-21 school year, with a 57% increase in course requests for our FLVS Flex option and a 98% increase in the number of students for FLVS Full Time. This increase meant many students across the state of Florida and beyond were experiencing online courses for the first time, and therefore, many parents were overseeing online learning for the first time.

But Florida schools were not the only ones that we helped during this unprecedented time. For 20 years, FLVS has been serving schools and districts globally with online learning content and professional development, and because of the pandemic, even more school administrators, superintendents, teachers, and more reached out to us, seeking help and guidance.

Prior to COVID-19, we had been working closely with the state of Alaska to help them launch an online program in 2022. But with schools closing around the nation, our teams quickly joined forces to help Alaska launch their Alaska State Virtual School two full years ahead of schedule in fall 2020 with our Global School program, which includes qualified instructors for students in remote areas. We also provided intensive teaching training for more than 170 teachers in the state eager to instruct students online during the pandemic, allowing them to launch their new virtual school with a fully trained staff.

Sharing Knowledge

In addition to helping schools nationwide, our team wanted to do even more to ensure that students could continue learning. Knowing that resources were key for educators to feel supported, we rallied dozens of subject matter experts across our organization – from experienced online teachers and principals to curriculum developers – to create engaging and thoughtful content that inspired effective and successful learning outcomes in an online environment.
This content was launched on our Online Learning Community on March 27, 2020, which became a one-stop online hub that offered hundreds of free educational resources for kindergarten-12 students, families, administrators, and schools across the globe. This tool added to our already vast catalog of nearly 200 online courses and professional development offerings, and we found ourselves in a sea of eager teachers seeking more.

Between March 2020 and June 2021, we delivered nearly 1,000 training webinars to online and blended program leaders, teachers, and other support staff to assist them with their local offerings. These trainings complement our online courses perfectly, allowing teachers to focus on meeting the diverse needs of individual students instead of looking for resources that may or may not translate well with online delivery.

The connections we formed with schools, districts, and classrooms has been so heart-warming for all of us, especially knowing that we are impacting the landscape of learning in our country and beyond.

Power in Remote Community

One thing we know for certain is that during a time of uncertainty, there is power in community. By sharing our knowledge and resources about online education during a time when many were new to it, we were able to ensure student success and lift up our colleagues, community, and neighbors when they needed it most. Knowledge should not be kept by one person or organization, instead it should be shared more widely for the betterment of our industry and the growth of virtual education.

To that end, we will continue to share in our Online Learning Community next school year, and constantly update our content with news, advice, and key learning modules to keep being a resource for those who need it. We have also modified and added to our instructor professional development catalog to help schools successfully use digital resources either remotely or in a classroom. Each professional development course outlines best practices that are relevant and practical so that teachers can walk away and immediately use what they learned.

Although there were challenges this past school year, parents noticed that an online learning environment is what their children needed to blossom. In a recent survey conducted by FLVS, 65% of parents expressed that they expect online education to be part of their child’s future. And, although too much screen time and infrequent social interaction were still a concern in the survey results, parents also noted the benefits they have uncovered from online learning.

Some of these benefits include better study habits, an individualized learning experience that allows for more one-on-one time with teachers, more frequent communication between parents and teachers, rigorous course content that is challenging yet easy to understand, the flexibility in schedule, and more. These results also show the stark contrast between true online education, which has been around for more than 20 years, and remote learning, which was implemented quickly by school districts nationwide because of the pandemic.

courntey calfee headshotThe greatest gift that this past year gave us was reminding educators everywhere why we do what we do – to help students succeed. Not one student learns the same as another, so having more options for students and parents to choose, including a virtual learning environment, is essential to helping our students thrive. Let’s continue to pave the way for them, together.

Courtney Calfee is the senior director of global partner services at Florida Virtual School.

Featured Image: John Benitez, Unsplash.