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Forsyth County parents find success in virtual academy despite continued scheduling issues
Amanda Guay
Amanda Guay helps out her sixth-grader, Ellis, while her third-grader, Leila, finishes up a lesson on her laptop. Their newly-dubbed school mascot and family dog, Bacon, peeks out from underneath the table.

Parents from around the county said that the Forsyth County Schools system virtual learning programs are mostly working well for them and their kids despite some issues with schedules and online assignments during the first week of the new school year. 

Several parents reported that their first week of school went much more smoothly compared to their experience with virtual in the spring — when both students and teachers were unexpectedly thrown into online learning when in-person classes came to a halt. 

Some also said that there have been few technological mishaps, and any issues that they ran into last week were gone by the time Monday rolled around.  

Parents have also said that students, even those in elementary school, have also taken to any new software and technology easily — navigating online assignments with little assistance. 

Although many parents have said that the virtual academy has improved and their kids enjoyed the first week of classes, they also agree that there is still room for improvement. 

“The experience I think is a little different based on age,” parent Emily Kaminski said. 

Parents in the county with elementary-aged kids said that the new virtual program, created entirely over the summer, has worked wonders for them, providing a structured schedule and time for live check-ins with their teachers. 

Amanda Guay has two kids enrolled in virtual learning, Leila in third-grade and Ellis in sixth-grade. 

“I was kind of nervous for the elementary before it started because Forsyth never had a virtual option for elementary students, and I will say it has been amazing,” Guay said. “Super pleased with everything that they have given us.” 

Christy Louella agreed. She’s relieved at how the school year has started for her twins in fourth-grade after their experience in the spring and all of the following uncertainty. 

“They’re very, very happy,” Louella said. “They’re very engaged, and they’re enjoying it a lot. In the spring, they didn’t enjoy it very much, but they’re really getting a lot out of it this time.” 

Kaminski's son, Henry, just started second-grade, and she said that he has already adjusted to his daily schedule. He watches the school news in the morning, has independent reading time before a virtual class meeting at 8:30, finishes his morning work before taking a break for lunch, gets ready for another class meeting at 12:30, and then finishes up his math work and specials before ending his school day. 

Parents of children in middle and high school, however, have struggled to find that same structure for their kids’ school days. One father of two middle schoolers, who asked that he not be named, said that he has been disappointed with his kids’ workload for the past week. 

“Our experience so far has been a little bit negative in that — you know the first few days I can understand they didn’t have much going on, but I thought it would really start up this week for middle school,” he said. “But compared to the in-class, I think the rigor is not really there for the online.” 

He said that his kids have not had the opportunity to have live check-ins with their teachers, and lessons are directed through online resources or PowerPoints instead of pre-recorded lectures or other resources provided directly by their own teachers. 

The parent said that his kids were able to finish most of their weekly assignments in the first couple of days, and by Wednesday, they were only spending two hours in the morning on schoolwork before they were finished for the day. 

Kaminski, who also has kids enrolled in sixth- and ninth-grade, agreed that the elementary virtual program and middle and high school academy were much different in that students can work at their own pace, logging in and finishing work whenever they want to. Teachers did, however, provide pacing guides to students that offer suggestions on what lessons and assignments to finish during which days of the week. 

“It’s still the first week of school, and I’m sure workloads will increase more as we move into the school year,” Guay said. “But all of the teachers have been really awesome. If we’ve needed anything, we reach out and they get back to us fairly quickly.” 

Nearly one-third of Forsyth County Schools students — 8,909 elementary students and 7,683 middle and high school students — enrolled in full-time virtual learning to start the school year, according to Forsyth County Schools. Another 3,579 students in grades 6-12 enrolled in at least one online class through Forsyth Virtual Academy. 

Forsyth County Schools spokeswoman Jennifer Caracciolo said that middle and high school students are still trying to get used to this new way of learning, but she said in the long run, it will benefit students. 

“While a few have faced some challenges in this new platform, we know that long-term, this will create many opportunities for them, especially those that continue their education at higher levels,” Caracciolo said. 

Kaminski said that her daughter in ninth-grade has had a much easier time adjusting to the schedule, and she loves online learning. While she recognizes that online certainly is not for everyone, she said her daughter has benefitted from it. 

“There are kids that are her age and some of my friends’ children, they don’t like it,” Kaminiski said. “But she really prefers it. Like she will tell me, ‘Okay, if I don’t really understand math right away, I like that I can rewind the lesson and watch it again.’ There’s no friction to doing that. Whereas some kids like to have that interactive classroom.” 

For the most part, many parents and kids in Forsyth County are looking to the positives of virtual learning, finding ways to mix new solutions with old normalcies that feel comfortable and fun. 

Louella said that she planned days with neighbors and friends to switch off school days, sending her kids off to their homes for school some days and taking their kids other days to try to give them all a change of scenery and be around other kids while they learn. 

Guay has also already started keeping pictures of her kids and their at-home school adventures for a yearbook that they plan to make themselves at the end of the year since they will not have school photos. And they have already decided on their school mascot: their dog, Bacon. 

“I’m very appreciative of [Forsyth County superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden] for offering virtual options for parents who didn’t want to send their kids for face-to-face for whatever reason they may have,” Guay said. “I think we’re very lucky to be able to have that choice.”