The Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (VLACS) was featured on Chris Unger’s A Revolution in Education podcast. The episode titled “VLACS – Providing Personalized Learning for Every Student” discusses VLACS’s approach to customized, competency-based education and the flexibility, opportunities, and relationships that blossom from it. Joining in the conversation is VLACS Co-founder and CEO Steve Kossakoski, Director of Partnerships and Adult Education Julie Reece, VLACS Instructors Bette Bramante and Christie Dunlavey, and VLACS Students Brooke Harnden, Camper Dales, and Ashleigh Nagel.
Listen to A Revolution in Education here: https://arevolutionineducation3.buzzsprout.com/2214666/13399595
The Paradigm Shift [0:39] – Chris Unger sets the stage by challenging the conventional perception of virtual learning. He emphasizes that VLACS is more than just online tutorials and tests; it’s about creating a dynamic environment that connects learners with mentors, teachers, and real-world experience. Students can learn at their own pace, in their own space, and explore diverse interests.
The Inception of VLACS [2:55] – Steve Kossakoski, VLACS CEO and Founder, sheds light on the school’s origins. He discusses the VLACS philosophy of breaking away from the traditional school calendar to offer a flexible environment where learning can happen anytime.
Steve underscores the role of instructors who go above and beyond to truly understand their students, fostering a supportive and individualized learning environment. This commitment to forming strong student-instructor connections is a cornerstone of the VLACS experience.
Steve shares examples of when students challenged the norm of conventional learning by proposing alternative ways to earn credits. Whether writing a book or gaining English credit by interning at a marketing agency, VLACS accepts and encourages the thoughtful design of personalized learning experiences. This approach is about unteaching the idea that traditional courses are the sole path to knowledge and embracing the idea that learning can take diverse forms.
Competency-Based Learning [6:18] – Julie Reece, VLACS Director of Partnerships and Adult Education, discusses how VLACS is centered around competencies. Students are encouraged to master concepts and skills at their own pace and progress through the material only when ready. The focus is on individual mastery rather than rigid timelines. This approach fosters customized and flexible learning, where the learning pathway varies from student to student. Some students will take traditional courses, while others will learn through projects and experiences or even mix-match these options.
The Students’ Perspective [15:08] – Full-time high school students Brooke Harnden, Camper Dales, and Ashleigh Nagel provide insights into their learning experiences. Brooke emphasizes the ease of scheduling one-on-one sessions with instructors, offering undivided attention for better understanding. Camper underscores the importance of building strong relationships with instructors, not just academically but on a personal level. Ashleigh shares her positive experiences with her teachers, who go the extra mile to support her learning. She describes how instructors provide comprehensive explanations and follow-up emails, a level of dedication and care that sets VLACS apart from traditional schools.
Freedom and Flexibility [26:46] – Brooke Harden recalls her personal experiences when VLACS empowered her to pursue passions alongside education. She talks about accepting a job as a barista and the flexibility VLACS offers to accommodate work schedules. Since she can design her own schedule, she can work, engage in clubs and activities, and complete her VLACS learning on her terms.
A Transformative Approach [35:45] – Bette Bramante, a VLACS instructor, dismantles the traditional classroom structure. She describes the welcoming process at VLACS, which involves one-on-one meetings with students and their parents. These monthly meetings foster a collaborative approach, with parents actively involved in their child’s education. Furthermore, Bette explains how VLACS allows instructors to co-design educational pathways tailored to students’ interests and aspirations.
Bette also delves into the VLACS learning model, where students can tackle assignments in ways that align with their chosen career paths. This approach ensures that the core competencies are met while giving students the freedom to explore their interests.
Customized Learning Options [48:09] Christie Dunlavey, another VLACS instructor, highlights the various learning formats available to students. These include traditional courses, projects, and experiential learning, which students can choose based on their preferences. Christie also shares the success of VLACS’ collaboration with businesses and organizations. These partnerships allow students to participate in camps, workshops, and internship programs that expose them to workplace and professional settings. These opportunities exemplify VLACS’s commitment to connecting students to real-world experiences.
Positive Relationships [50:59] – Christie Dunlavey reflects on her previous experience as a classroom teacher, where she often found it challenging to connect with her students in a crowded, time-restricted classroom setting. She recalls moments when students would leave her class and realize she hadn’t had the chance to engage with them individually.
Christie’s perspective shifted as she began to work with students one-on-one at VLACS. She emphasizes the impact of this personal approach, highlighting that she now knows her students deeply. The shift from a traditional classroom to VLACS allowed her to focus on building meaningful relationships with her students, offering them the individualized support they need.
To hear more about VLACS’s transformative approach to education, listen to A Revolution in Education podcast episode “VLACS – Providing Personalized Learning for Every Student”