New facility, career pathways top priorities for Arkansas Virtual Academy

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 952 views 

Having grown from 250 students to more than 4,000 over the past 20 years, Amy Johnson with the Arkansas Virtual Academy (ARVA) is still in the planning stages.

The ARVA has purchased a building in downtown Little Rock to expand its services and there are elements of the forthcoming LEARNS Act that will require a change in aspects of ARVA’s delivery.

“The Arkansas Virtual Academy is a fully virtual, online public charter school, so it’s open enrollment,” said Johnson, a guest on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics. “It works very much like a local brick-and-mortar school. Any student that wants to apply and attend virtually, may, and we’ll accept and work with them and their family. We offer grades kindergarten through 12th.”

Reasons for students choosing this charter school option can vary greatly. Johnson said some children come to ARVA because they are medically fragile or have a medical situation in their family. Others may perform better in a virtual environment due to anxiety or bullying. Johnson said some students simply excel learning at their own pace.

“Our high academic students are involved in their communities. We have one student who is training for the Olympics in riflery. Our program works for her because she can meet her training schedule and her traveling schedule. We also have students that just prefer to school online. So pretty much any variety of student type probably lives under our roof,” Johnson said.

ARVA families will not benefit from the Education Freedom Accounts in the new LEARNS Act. ARVA’s funding comes from a different pot of money at the state level for charter schools. But Johnson sees a lot of benefits from LEARNS, including its emphasis on reading literacy and career education.

“First of all, just the focus on academics is so important. That’s something we’re always thinking about and always working to improve. So we really appreciate the scaffolding and structure of tutoring and the focus on literacy. We are excited about those pieces.”

“Probably for us the most exciting piece is the career diploma. We already have over 23 certifications students can get in 11 different pathways. We had a little over 1,100 students complete one certification or another in this last year,” she added.

Some of those career pathways include Microsoft certifications and a newly started pharmacy tech program.

ARVA rendering of new space.

Last year, it was announced that ARVA had purchased for $1.5 million the old Today’s Office building on 7th Street in downtown Little Rock. Renovations are nearly complete and the school’s new facility will open Aug. 1.

Johnson said the space will function for a lot of teacher training, public space for events for central Arkansas ARVA students, career tech training, and face-to-face meetings.

“One thing that people don’t always recognize is we have about 180 teachers that also live all over the state, just like our students. One of the uses of the space will be training space. Right now, we have to rent locations for 180 teachers. That’s tricky,” she said.

“Then also just some hybrid, face-to-face opportunities for students. If we have central Arkansas students that need to connect to the internet – maybe their internet, they’ve had an internet issue – they can do that. Or we can bring students in for tutoring sessions or hands-on learning opportunities. And we hope that this hub will act as sort of a pilot or a model where we can build some spokes around the state to do little areas around the state that are more central for students where they live,” Johnson added.

You can watch Johnson’s full interview in the video below.