Enrollment spikes at South Carolina virtual school during coronavirus pandemic

VIDEO: Enrollment spikes at South Carolina virtual school during coronavirus pandemic

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Parents say they are looking for stability for their children in the midst of plans at Lowcountry school districts.

A South Carolina tuition-free virtual school, South Carolina Connections Academy, is seeing a spike in enrollment during the coronavirus pandemic.

School officials say the amount of new students is triple what they typically see.

Kitchen tables have turned into classrooms and parents have turned into teachers. Schools across the nation have launched into at-home virtual learning unexpectedly due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Summerville mother Hannah Runion says the unknown is what’s nerve racking for her family. Her daughter Braelle is a rising fourth grader. Runion says stability is key when it comes to her daughter’s school plans.

"Most of what worries me is having to go back and fourth like maybe she'll end up at school and do that five days a week or maybe it'll be just twice a week or maybe it'll all be online," Runion said.

To put an end those worries, she enrolled her daughter in the South Carolina Connections Academy.

"Where virtual learning is their strong suit and not a back up plan," Runion said.

Connection Academy serves K-12 students. School officials say last year they had about 5,400 students.

Executive Director Josh Kitchens says he’s been with the school since its start nearly 13 years ago. He started off as a social studies teacher.

"As long as the family has a working laptop and high speed internet at the base that's really all that they need to work in the program." Kitchens said.

Kitchens says the school typically has 500 new students a year, but this year they have nearly 1,500 new students who’ve enrolled and counting. He says that’s a 146 percent increase in new students, and they are expecting to have more than 6,000 students for the upcoming school year.

“There are families that are looking for a secure model, a stable model,” Kitchens said. “I would suspect that a lot of those families are seeking us out because of the pandemic.”

Kitchen says their program allows for a lot of flexibility and personalization.

“If we want to go on vacation, you just bring your laptop, if you need a snack you just get up and get one,” Runion said.

Kitchens says students usually take four core subjects at a time plus electives. There's a blend of self paced learning where students complete assignments on their own and live lessons with state certified teachers.

They can use web cameras to interact with teachers.

“They can call a teacher anytime that they need help or need support,” Kitchens said. “There’s lots of live contact with the teacher. That’s one of the tenants of our program and that’s really how we make sure we build relationships with students since we’re not getting to see them everyday.”

School officials say students have the option of returning to traditional schools at any time.

“They have many different class options,” Runion said. “If your student is a little bit behind they have a class for you. If your student is ahead...she’s enrolling in gifted and talented through this online program which I think a lot of parents aren’t aware of.”

School officials say they can hire staff to account for the new students.

With the growing interest the school has set an enrollment cap of 6,500 students.

They also have a limited number of laptops available for students who need them.

The school also organizes field trips and college trips where students can connect. However, those have been impacted by the coronavirus.

Click here to enroll online or to learn more about the school. You can also call 1-800-382-6010 to enroll.

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