Assistant Superintendent of Schools Michael Lombas (left) and Superintendent of Schools Darwan Lazard (right) log in to the new virtual classroom system. The system will be offered to students in the fall and will include meals being offered. (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)
Into a virtual realm
By: NANCY DUPLECHAIN
Evangeline Parish has a new school, but this one is different from traditional brick-and-mortar schools: this one is virtual. Assistant Superintendent Michael Lombas initiated the online school to fill the need for students who would do better in such a learning environment.
EVA is a free public school where teachers primarily educate from a remote location using the internet or other computer-based methods, and students are not required to be located at the physical premises of the school. EVA is open to all students who reside in Evangeline Parish. Students are still connected to their home school for attendance and grading purposes. This gives the student different avenues in which they can stay connected with their peers socially, such as sports and clubs.
Lombas said EVA came about when students expelled from their regular schools were sent to Evangeline Central where they were isolated in a cubicle, working on the online Edgenuity program. “Some of them just thrived in that environment. They weren’t getting in trouble. They were getting their work done.” After their expulsion time ended, the students wanted to return to Evangeline Central where they felt they worked better without all the distraction of regular school. According to Lombas, the students prospered instead of just existing. They started scoring well on state assessments.
Lombas said they are also starting the academy because of the demand they know they will have because of COVID-19. “We know there are a lot of parents who will be uncomfortable with letting their children go back to a school where we have large populations of other children,” he said. The basis for the virtual academy started last year as an offshoot of the Edgenuity platform. He said students were excelling using that online program.
EVA will be based at Evangeline Central with local teachers. Students will do their lessons in the morning. Afternoons will be teacher hours, working with students via phone call, Zoom meeting, or even in person for one-on-one tutoring. “Not only are you doing a virtual platform, but you have individualization to be successful in that platform,” said Lombas. He said it allows for children to work at their own pace but still keeps them on track with daily progress reports. If they do not do their work, they will not be able to stay in the virtual school. “We don’t want it to be a dumping ground. We don’t want it to be a place for kids who are just doing it to say they are in attendance. You actually have to be in attendance and have to be actively working to stay in this virtual school.”
One reason Lombas wanted a virtual school is because he sees that schools could suffer a hit like brick-and-mortar stores that are losing business to online shopping. “We’re beginning to lose a segment of our population who learn better online. If we don’t address that need, then we’re going to lose those kids.” Also, having students attend virtual school in Evangeline Parish means the funding dollars will stay in Evangeline Parish. While the students are in the virtual academy, on paper they will still be zoned for a brick-and-mortar school, which means they can participate in sports and extracurricular activities.
According to Lombas, the parish has lost students to other virtual schools offered by the state, and lost students to home schooling. This program would be beneficial to home-school students or students who are homebound for medical reasons. “This offers them a full curriculum at the child’s fingertips,” said Lombas. “This is a way for us to recapture some of the loss. We’re offering everything other virtual academies are offering. It’s a free public education, and we provide all the technology and equipment that any other virtual school would provide. We loan the students Chromebooks and whatever else they may need in order to be successful.”
Some virtual schools across that state have hundreds of students for one teacher, which Lombas said makes it hard to individualize. The teacher-to-student ratio at Evangeline Virtual Academy would be around 30 students assigned to one teacher.
Lombas said with some virtual schools, students do little work and sometimes do not even log into the system, but the state thinks they are in attendance. A year later the students are re-enrolled into the regular school system, but without any credits and a year behind other students their age.
Electives, such as art and foreign languages, would also be provided, as would P.E. “What’s nice with the program is it adjusts their pathways,” said Lombas. “Students can get credit for what they already know because they pre-test and can test out of that. If a student takes a test and doesn’t perform well, then it’s going to put them back and re-teach that standard and then test again. It always loops, making sure there are no gaps in the instruction they are receiving. It’s a good system that addresses all the national standards, which are Louisiana standards.”
Superintendent Darwan Lazard said he would like the public to know that, as a part of their goal to provide education services to students of Evangeline Parish, they are providing this virtual program that will allow students to continue to matriculate through the school system. “Our goals is to not let any students fall behind,” said Lazard. “We want them to remain current in their pursuit for promotion or graduation. I’m grateful to the Evangeline Parish school board for supporting this initiative. We stand ready to assist the students in Evangeline Parish, to help them be successful.”
Grace Sibley, who helped bring the Edgenuity program to the district and sits on the Evangeline Virtual Academy committee, said there is meaning behind the name of the new virtual school. “The name Eva means ‘living one; full of life.’ So, we are giving life to some students who would otherwise have some difficulty,” she said. “Also, Evangeline starts with E-V-A. And Evangeline means ‘bearer of good news.’”
“I think this is really going to be a big step forward for our Parish,” said Lombas.
Evangeline Virtual Academy (EVA) enrollment is July 1 to July 31. Online applications are available at www.epsb.com, or physical applications may be picked up at Evangeline Central. Phone 337-363-1089.