Utah lawmakers approved to increase the enrollment cap this year at Utah Virtual Academy as more students turn to online learning during COVID-19.Oct 21, 2020 01:12PM ● By Julie Slama
Sophomore Madeline Kahl logs on to her classes online at Utah Virtual Academy, where she has been a student for nine years, and where about 1,000 more students joined the charter school this fall. (Photo courtesy of Sara Kahl)
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
More than 1,500 K-12 students took advantage of the opportunity to enroll at Utah Virtual Academy once the Utah legislature authorized an increased enrollment cap for the online charter school in August.
“It was parents demanding enrollment that drove us to reach out to increase our cap,” said UTVA Head of School Meghan Merideth. “By the second week of July, we had students on the waiting list and saw our numbers exponentially increase. We were watching the trends come in daily grow from 100 to 400 to 500. In this pandemic, students and parents want a proven online model.”
As calls and emails asking to add students to the waitlist continued, Merideth said the school’s board chair contacted the state charter board and the state board of education in mid-August and asked for the school to be able to expand to handle the demand.
Ultimately, UTVA was granted a 1,500-student increase to an enrollment cap of 3,550 students. Enrollment in late August was 3,050.
“Seventy percent of our demand has been K-5, specifically K-2. A lot of families are wanting our online learning option as we’ve been perfecting the model for a decade, not flipping the model to online overnight. It’s really quite impressive what the school district teachers were able to do (last spring during the soft closure), but we have experience in our lessons and offer full programs with live instruction online,” she said.
The school also offers concurrent college courses through partnerships with Snow College, Dixie State University and Salt Lake Community College, career and technical education, some advanced placement courses, counseling and even clubs.
The added enrollment is supported through HB6012 – Public Education Funding and Enrollment, which gives the Utah State Board of Education use of emergency funding and state education money to allocate in addition to what already has been appropriated for the enrollment boost.
“The money follows the student,” Merideth said. “There’s about $8 million that will support our students and those with Utah Connections Academy, which also got an increased enrollment.”
She said that as of late August additional teachers were being hired and trained.
“We’ve had a lot of quality teachers. Some went into early retirement or stepped away from schools because of COVID-19. It’s been a wild ride since July. Once we started the process of asking for an increased enrollment, the demand seems to have just jumped overnight,” Merideth said.
Her own fourth-grade daughter is enrolled in the school, where Merideth started working nine years ago as a counselor. She has been head of school the past four.
“It’s pretty exciting what’s going on,” Merideth said. “This is the way education is going to be going.”