It started out like any typical morning for the charter school teacher. She and her student were on a webcam discussing a lesson. Suddenly there were loud noises coming from the student’s webcam and the teacher noticed the student moving around the room.
“What’s go on?” the teacher asked.
“I think someone just got shot!” the student blurted out.
It turned out that there was, in fact, a drive-by shooting at a neighboring residence. The teacher stayed focused, helped to keep the student calm and stayed connected with the child as long as needed. Soon, law enforcement arrived and the incident was dealt with.
“If that teacher hadn’t been there with that student that student could have run outside,” said Virtual Preparatory Academy of Lucerne Principal Kristen Mandell. “Who knows what would have happened? That teacher was there supporting her, being with her.”
Principal Mandell and Administrator Michelle Romaine shared this and other charter school anecdotes and successes during their April 13, 2023 presentation to the Lucerne Valley Unified School District’s monthly school board meeting. The Virtual Preparatory Academy at Lucerne joins Sky Mountain, Granite Mountain, Gorman Learning Center San Bernardino/Santa Clarita, Elite Academic Academy and Alta Vista Innovation High School as charter schools authorized by the Lucerne Valley Unified School District.
“We believe that parents should have choice in their children’s education,” said Superintendent Peter Livingston. “By providing oversight for our charter schools, families throughout Southern California are able to have parental choice for their children in a variety of programs. Not every student fits into ‘brick and mortar’ schools. All of our charters provide different learning opportunities for families and provide choice in public education. We are proud to partner with our charter schools and to collaborate with them around what is best for all students.”
Virtual Prep currently has 692 students, up from 488 the prior year. It’s a tuition-free online public school serving San Bernardino, Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and Inyo Counties. The school has a variety of student populations, and it boasts an extremely impressive attendance rate of 97 percent. “If you have 25 kids on your (class) roster, you probably have 24.8 student ADA (Average Daily Attendance). We’re extremely proud of that,” Ms. Mandell said.
“With her leadership, she doesn’t let anybody hide out in our school; she’s not letting that happen,” Romaine said. “When many schools in the state are dealing with chronic absenteeism we feel that that is a great story to tell.”
One of the keys to students wanting to attend school is Virtual Prep’s Student Success team. Members of the team, which is made up of teachers and administrators, help identify the needs of both students and their families. “They are really a liaison between the teachers, the students and the parents,” according to Ms. Mandell.
If a student is having attendance or grade issues, or if they just seem a little off, Virtual Prep has a protocol for identifying and solving the problem. First the Student Success team goes to the teacher and then the parent. If needed, they bring the student in. The school makes sure students and their families have access to resources. If they have an internet connection issues, for instance, they send wifi hotspots. “Every kid gets a Chromebook. If you want one, you get one.”
Foster Care Students
The school also serves a number of children in foster care. One student has been in five foster homes — in one semester. “What we’ve been able to provide for him is consistency,” Principal Mandell said. “He has had the same teacher, the same friends, the same conversation, the same level of connectivity.”
The student is also provided with needed resources, wherever he is.
“He has one of our hotspots. He knows it belongs to him. He takes it and his Chromebook wherever he is. He has the same student success coach, the same mental health counselor and the same resources that we provide for him along with our high school guidance counselor who’s helping him to understand what he’s going to need to graduate.”
If not for Virtual Prep, the student could have had a much different outlook. “Without us. Without our school he would have been a five different schools in one semester. That isn’t even fathomable to me.”
Another Virtual Prep elementary school student, a 4th-grader, began acting differently than usual. “We didn’t know but the teacher noticed he was getting a little more needy with her. Then she noticed he was real tired and wasn’t taking care of himself and so she asked the student success coach to give him a call.” It turned out his mother had died. So the Virtual Prep Success Team got into action.
“In the year and a half since the mom passed away the kid went from very shy, not talking to and not even coming on camera sometimes has now become the motivator of other students in the class.”
Now a 5th a grader, the student has a bright outlook. With Virtual Preparatory Academy as his educational home he can succeed and find his niche in life. “In a different setting he might not have been as seen.”
The following are some of the school’s guidelines and tools for success:
The Student Success Coaching Team ensures families in need of reliable internet will be provided with a wifi hotspot and students who need or want a school laptop will be provided with a Chromebook. Socio-emotional and academic resource support will be provided. It ensures families and students will understand resources available including mental health support.
The administrators at Virtual Academy Prep affirm the importance of a strong teacher and staff engagement. There is ongoing professional development for the staff along with collaboration with community members. Teachers check in with the principal once a month and staff collaboration meetings are held.
Virtual Prep has a diverse amount of education programs centered around its Independent Stud program. plans are individualized to make up for previous learning loss and students have have access to the school counselors. Tutoring and a reading specialist are available. Intervention support is offered, especially for students who have fallen behind.
The school’s Special Education Department has grown to five fulltime teachers, two speech and language pathologists, a school psychologist, an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, a special education coordinator and special education director. Overall, students with disabilities represent about 13.2% of the overall school population.
English Language Development students are provided with special tools and programs to focus on reading skills and for older students college and career readiness. High School students receive personalized support.
For more information on Lucerne Valley USD’s Charter Schools, visit https://www.lucernevalleyusd.org/apps/pages/Charter