Director Jill Stevenson told the Park Rapids School Board Monday how the Park Rapids Area Virtual Academy (PRAVA) has fared so far in its first trimester of operation.

Stevenson said PRAVA has the same mission, goals and robust standards as the district’s in-person instruction or distance learning programs.

According to Stevenson, PRAVA has so far enrolled 18 students from 12 families – five girls and 13 boys – in grades 6-12, including four sophomores and seven juniors. They are enrolled in more than 40 courses, including core classes taught by Tina Ridlon (science), Vicki Schroeder (English), Shelli Walsh (social studies) and Autumn Weber (math).

“You can only go as far as your team, and this is a rock solid team,” said Stevenson, noting that the teachers correct 15 percent of the course work while Apex does the rest.

In addition to their virtual learning courses, Stevenson said, PRAVA students can participate in student organizations, athletics, physical education, fine arts, and electives – either in person or via distance learning. They can receive food service, be on the honor roll, graduate with their classmates and even be valedictorian or salutatorian.

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Stevenson said she communicates weekly with the students and their parents, liaising with school staff to connect them with what they want and need, including tutorials to help when they are struggling.

She distinguished between distance learning and virtual learning, saying that distance learners must check in hourly with their teachers during the school day. Meanwhile, virtual learners can set their own schedule, doing course work keyed to grade-level standards on the Apex Learning platform. This allows them to attend school during evenings or weekends, while working a job.

Another advantage of PRAVA, Stevenson explained, is retaining students who may have transferred to a homeschool or another virtual learning environment, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It also accommodates students with individualized education plans.

Stevenson said there is data showing that Apex, which started in 1997, increases grade-level proficiency, test scores and on-time graduation rates. The courses are accredited, she said, and technology devices are provided.

“We are flexible in our learning model,” she said. “To me, there is little doubt that virtual learning is going to be a part of our instructional delivery.”

She said she is open to applications for PRAVA’s second trimester, which begins Nov. 30. There is no charge to the students’ families.

“I have found that students who are self-disciplined, intrinsically motivated and driven are often most successful” in a virtual learning environment,” she said. “It’s very different than in-person learning,” where there is more structure to the school day.

Enrollment holding steady

The monthly enrollment report showed student numbers as of Oct. 14 totaled 603 at the elementary (K-4), 506 at the middle school (5-8), 460 in high school (9-12), for a K-12 total of 1,569 – a net decrease of four students since Sept. 10.

In addition, the district enrolled 71 students in pre-K, 29 in early childhood programming, and 25 in the high school Alternative Learning Center for a districtwide total of 1,694, an overall increase of five students since last month.

Business manager Kent Fritze reported that the district has $451,000 in CARES Act funding to spend by Dec. 30 on costs resulting from COVID-19.

High school principal Jeff Johnson said PRAHS seniors recently took the ACT, making up for a canceled test date last spring, and juniors took the U.S. Army’s ASVAB test and have already received the results. Juniors were also to take the ACT on Tuesday.

In consent items and general business, the school board:

  • Hired Caroline Koch as an elementary paraprofessional; Garret Kovach as seventh grade boys basketball coach; Jens Anderson as a volunteer football coach; and Joan McKinnon and Teressa Colligan as volunteer volleyball coaches.

  • Acknowledged donations received, including 10,000 masks from Lamb Weston, $2,554 from John and Bernie Schumacher to the high school athletics and P.E. programs for an elliptical trainer, $400 to Century School for Panther Proud incentives, three cases of hand sanitizer from Repcolite of Holland, Mich. and handcrafted artwork from Stan Gray.

  • Approved the Education Minnesota and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees seniority lists for the 2020-21 school year.

  • Approved an annual resolution about polling places for special school district elections.

  • Read policies about student attendance, student dress and appearance, non-resident enrollment and COVID-19 face coverings.

  • Received a quarterly report on the student activities accounts, which saw revenues totaling $2,113 and expenses totaling $1,765 during the past quarter.

The school board’s next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 2 at the Frank White Education Center.