SIOUX CITY— Sioux City’s new Vibe Academy had a successful first semester, with more than 500 students enrolled.
The Virtual Institute for Brighter Education, or VIBE Academy, is not an outsourced software or program, it’s Sioux City teachers teaching in a “synchronous learning environment,” Superintendent Paul Gausman said. .
Kindergarten through high school students can enroll in the program regardless of where they live in Iowa. Of the roughly 520 freshman students, with the biggest increases in high school and college, principal Dave Vickery said.
Vickery said there are children who are succeeding in the virtual learning model where they haven’t in traditional learning environments.
Virtual school isn’t just for parents and students worried about the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are 100 different reasons why a student might choose this model,” Vickery said. Some of the students may have social anxiety or behavioral issues, some may be pregnant or dealing with different family circumstances, and still others may have health issues or be bedridden, Vickery said. Every family has a unique situation, he says.
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“I always looked at it beyond COVID,” he said. “What is the purpose of this school beyond a pandemic and that’s what we kind of focus on.”
for a student to enroll in VIBE Academy, Vickery has an in-person conversation with students and parents to ensure that virtual learning is a good option for them.
Since the beginning of August, intervention enrichment has been added to middle school, homework help after school, and tutoring and special education have been increased.
“We try to meet the needs of all students,” Vickery said.
Sioux City students can choose to transfer to the virtual academy at any time of the year.
Vickery said there were students enrolled who didn’t live in the school district, such as nearby Le Mars and even one from Ames. Students from outside the district have until March 1 each year to register for the following year.
There are 28 full-time teachers and counsellors. Students can experience all classes, including art, music, and physical education.
Some of the teachers practically taught last year and chose to continue. Others are new to teaching, Vickery said.
He said teachers have adapted to the new teaching environment and continue to improve the student experience.
Vickery said one of the goals was to teach students to set themselves up for success.
getting up in the morning, eating breakfast, getting dressed, and finding a particular place to learn helps students focus more on class than on home.
Rachelle Barnum has been teaching since 1997 in the Sioux City neighborhood. With COVID-19 prompting the district to offer students a choice of learning environments last year, Barnum practically taught last year and enjoyed it.
“It was really great to revitalize a career and have a different experience and challenge myself,” she said.
Barnum, a high school social studies teacher, said teaching virtually gives her the opportunity to find new ways to teach things she’s done in the past.
The state Department of Education approved the academy in February, giving staff plenty of work to do between then and the start of school.
Vickery said it was a team effort and each staff member worked together to design the program.
“It’s been a challenge, but I have a great staff, a great technology department, really great everything,” he said. “We persevered through it all.”
On August 10, the school signed a lease with the Ho-Chunk Center to operate the academy on the fourth floor of the downtown office building.
It was important to the district to have all virtual academy administrators and teachers in one place. Vickery said it allows teachers to build the curriculum and problem solve together.
Staff worked quickly to set up the space so it would be usable for the start of the year, Vickery said.
The fourth-floor space is a large square, with a kitchen, elevators, and bathrooms in the middle and exterior walls of all windows. Teachers’ desks line the exterior walls all around the floor, facing outdoors with a unique view of downtown Sioux City and the Missouri River.
Since opening in August, teachers have personalized their workspaces and new desks and equipment have been installed.