Virtual Learning Grows During COVID

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Article originally published on

Virtual schools are safe and flexible for families and at-risk students

BOSTON – Virtual learning in K-12 education continues to grow due to the health threat caused by coronavirus variants and the assistance this learning model can provide to at-risk students, according to two papers released today by Pioneer Institute.

Virtual Learning, Concrete Option (download)

Online and On Course (download)

Though the two factors are distinctly different, their impact is the same, as more families have been prompted to explore the possibilities of digital learning. They have discovered that expert virtual learning differs from what many parents and students experienced after schools unexpectedly shut down in March of 2020. Others have seen how the use of technology can address the unique needs of certain children and high schoolers, the two studies report.

The papers are authored by Julie Young, founder of Florida Virtual School and managing director of Arizona State University Prep Academy and ASU Prep Digital, and William Donovan, a writer and former journalist. The reports also draw on government information, foundation studies, and interviews with experts in the digital learning field.

“Virtual learning, using computers and the internet to study courses taught in the classroom, isn’t meant to replace an in-school education,” says Young. “But it provides a genuine alternative for families who have challenges that interfere with attending brick-and-mortar schools.”

The level of parental demand for remote instruction has declined from the peak of the shutdown surge, as students returned to school full time in 2021. But states and school districts in California, Florida, North Carolina, Utah and elsewhere in the U.S. are continuing to expand their pre-pandemic virtual learning capacity to accommodate further enrollment growth.

In “Virtual Learning, Concrete Option,” the authors explain why established virtual schools and their programs are much different from the frantic switch to remote teaching that schools were forced to make after the 2020 closing. That hasty rush soured virtual learning for many families. True virtual schools apply years of experience to create courses designed for the online platform. Courses are developed by teams of designers, expert in user interface, graphics, instruction, and curriculum.

Most of the more than 330,000 students who attend one of the nearly 500 full-time virtual schools in the U.S. did not experience the same disruptions as in-class students, the authors state.

Virtual learning is a specific form of education that takes place through an online platform. It has often been swapped with the term remote to describe out-of-classroom learning as if they were the same. Virtual learning is much different from what was often a hasty attempt to remotely push classroom instruction through a computer screen when schools were closed. Remote learning is a broad description of what was happening.

In the second paper, “Online and On Course,” Young and Donovan lay out the benefits that virtual learning can provide to at-risk students, particularly minority students and those from low-income families. Those students often face personal or social issues such as violence in school, teenage pregnancy, or the need to work to help support their family. Unable to attend school, many drop out and ultimately fail to graduate.

The primary advantage that digital learning can provide those students is to free them from restrictions that tie learning to set hours in a specific place.

“Too often we limit students in a system in which time is fixed and learning is variable,” says Young. “Online learning flips that system and makes time variable and learning fixed. Enabling students to work at their own time and pace is a way for them to meet their academic requirements and their responsibilities outside of school.”

While touting the virtues, the authors advise parents to scrutinize digital programs closely. Their quality and effectiveness vary widely. Students are poorly served by point-and-click assessments with no engagement, virtual schools with videos instead of real teachers, and programs without pacing and scheduling support.

A key differentiator between questionable and quality virtual programs is adherence to the National Standards for Quality Online Learning, which includes standards for virtual teaching, programs, and courses. A competent virtual program should adhere to those standards.

The papers offer many recommendations, including the need to build out the digital learning infrastructure with broadband access to rural communities; investment in training teachers in virtual instruction; and the need for districts to be more forward-thinking in school designs such as hybrid models, learning pods, and micro-schools.

About the Authors

Julie Young is ASU Vice President of Education Outreach and Student Services and Managing Director of ASU Prep Academy and ASU Prep Digital. She is a visionary CEO, educator, and entrepreneur passionate about leveraging tech­nology and building innovative school models that put stu­dents at the center of every decision. Under Julie’s leadership over the last four years, ASU Preparatory Academy has grown exponentially in both enrollment and global impact, currently serving more than 7,500 full-time K–12 students and over 400,000 student enrollments in school partnerships around the U.S. This unique program offers students an accelerated path toward college admission and careers of the future with the chance to earn concurrent high school and university cred­it, shortening time and cost to degree. Julie was the founding President and CEO of Florida Virtual School (FLVS ®), the world’s first virtual statewide school district that began as a small grant initiative and grew to become the largest public K-12 program in the U.S., serving more than 2 million stu­dents in 50 states and 68 countries.

William Donovan is a former staff writer with The Provi­dence Journal in Rhode Island where he wrote about business and government. He has taught business journalism in the graduate programs at Boston University and Northeastern University. He received his undergraduate degree from Boston College and his master’s degree in journalism from American University in Washington, D.C.

About Pioneer

Pioneer’s mission is to develop and communicate dynamic ideas that advance prosperity and a vibrant civic life in Massachusetts and beyond. Pioneer’s vision of success is a state and nation where our people can prosper and our society thrive because we enjoy world-class options in education, healthcare, transportation and economic opportunity, and where our government is limited, accountable and transparent. Pioneer values an America where our citizenry is well-educated and willing to test our beliefs based on facts and the free exchange of ideas, and committed to liberty, personal responsibility, and free enterprise.

Meet an ASU Prep Digital Student with Super Powers

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Check out this article about Neva Lee Recla, one of our amazing students, previously published in “Podcast Magazine”:

Witty, wise, and eloquent. Author, entrepreneur, mentor, and podcaster.

Meet Neva Lee Recla, an 11-year-old student in Arizona.

Like many girls her age, she attends school virtually, is active in her church, and dreams of going to college. Then, there are the many ways she shines brilliantly, like a supernova traveling through the universe.

For the Recla family, podcasting is a family affair. They created the SuperPower Network in January 2016, and Neva’s mother, Tonya Dawn, was the first to host a show. Then, at the age of seven, Neva decided she wanted to follow her podcasting mother’s example and host her own show. She asked her mother if she could, and remembers her mom “looking at me like I was crazy. Like, ‘How is my seven-year-old daughter going to do a podcast?’” She was actually a little reluctant at first.

“My mom said, ‘I don’t want to coach kids.’ I explained to her that I was going to be the one who coaches them. We talked about it more, and she agreed. When I first started Super Power Kids, I had no clue what I was doing. I copied everything my mom said and memorized her exact intro.”

To see the complete article from “Podcast Magazine”, visit their web site.

Students Make Up for COVID Learning Loss with Summer School

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Students all around the country are experiencing a significant amount of learning loss due to COVID-19. According to a report published by McKinsey & Company, the average amount of learning loss will be approximately five to nine months by June 2021. As the landscape of education continues to change, it’s important we take steps to address gaps in student knowledge. ASU Prep Digital is partnering with the state of Arizona to address those gaps with a series of summer school programs.

Reading Refresh

This online summer school program for grades K–12 is perfect for students who want to keep their reading skills sharp or make up for lost learning. The experience is personalized for each student, using prescriptive assessment to meet students where they are and adapting the coursework to provide the right level of intervention or enrichment. Students will work 2-4 hours per day in both live lessons with a teacher and asynchronous digital activities. 

Math Momentum

Back by popular demand, this summer math program for grades K–12 is a great way for students to accelerate their math skills or fill any gaps in preparation for next year. Expert online teachers leverage prescriptive and adaptive software to provide both intervention and enrichment. Math Momentum requires students to work 2-4 hours per day and includes live lessons with a teacher and digital lessons that can be completed any time. High school students can choose from Algebra 1, Algebra 2 or Geometry.

STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math)

Grades K-5

This program combines STEM skills with the Arts to provide an engaging, hands-on experience for students. Students will be actively learning 2-4 hours per day and working with expert online teachers on projects and activities that build skills and curiosity.

Online Courses

ASU Prep Digital will also be offering their entire catalog of core and elective courses for grades 6-12 summer enrollment. Students will be actively learning 3-4 hours per day. Explore the full catalog to learn more.

Concurrent University Courses

Summer offers a great chance to take university courses and earn concurrent credit for both high school and college. This is the perfect way to explore the college experience, while earning valuable credits. Explore the full catalog to learn more.

To learn more about any of these summer programs, please join an online info session or contact an admissions advisor

Why Do Students Prefer Online Learning?

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Even before COVID-19 disrupted the way we educate, more and more students were seeking an alternative to the brick-and-mortar learning environment. Whether they wanted to take charge of their education or carve out more time for themselves and their hobbies, students discovered a different style of learning could be the key to their success both in and out of the classroom.

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why students prefer online learning:

Personalized learning paths.

Education is not ‘one size fits all.’ One major reason why students prefer online learning is because it takes a personalized learning approach, ensuring that every student can be successful. Many online high schools, including ASU Prep Digital, leverage individualized teaching models and technologies to assess student needs, strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles. This allows students to work at a pace that’s comfortable for them without feeling like they’re behind or  they’re moving too far ahead.

Flexible schedule.

In a traditional school setting, students are busy from morning until night. Between attending classes at set times, participating in extracurricular activities, and completing homework assignments, their schedules are jam packed and the same day after day. Another reason why students prefer online learning is because it gives them the flexibility to create their own schedule, allowing them to make more time for themselves and the things they love to do. Students at ASU Prep Digital enjoy working at their own pace and scheduling time to complete assignments while pursuing their passions, whether it’s music, dance, or athletics

Diverse learning environment.

Now more than ever, it’s important to make diversity and inclusion a priority in our classrooms. One of the unique advantages to online learning is the opportunity to connect with, and learn from, peers all around the world. At ASU Prep Digital, students are exposed to different cultures on a daily basis, allowing them to expand their horizons and make new friends that may be states or even oceans away! In fact, ASU Prep Digital offers a Global Leadership Exchange elective course where students collaborate with peers at Lydex High School in Morocco, developing important skills and establishing deeper understandings of different perspectives and cultures.

For students who are looking to learn at their own pace, set their own schedule, and have time to pursue their passions outside of school, online learning is a great option. Be sure to check out these additional posts to learn more about why students prefer online learning:

Top Five Tips for Teaching Online in 2021

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We know that 2020 was a challenging year for educators as they juggled pivoting to virtual instruction while ensuring their students had a smooth transition as well. As we look to the spring semester and beyond, we’re excited to share our Top Five New Year’s Resolutions for Teaching Online in 2021.

This ten-minute video training will share best practices from teachers all over the US, from building a strong, inclusive community for your online classroom, to creating better video content that will keep students and families engaged. You’ll learn ways to strengthen your skills while picking up a few new tricks to ensure a successful school year.

Want an in-depth look at our top five tips for teaching online? Check out our video to learn how you can start the new year with a collection of useful tools under your belt.

What is STEM?

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Do any of your students spend hours outside with a telescope on breezy nights, excitedly locating and pointing out constellations? Or devote a few hours every night to teaching themselves how to code, hoping to create their own website or app one day?

If so, they may have an interest and potential career path in STEM.

According to Live Science, STEM is a “curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.” While students can take separate classes in each of these four subjects, STEM education can also take an interdisciplinary approach and integrate all subjects to make it a cohesive learning experience.

Why is it so important?

Not only do students learn a handful of important skills in STEM courses, such as problem solving and critical thinking, but these jobs are also in high demand—and only becoming increasingly more important.

Last year, it was projected that 2.4 million STEM jobs would go unfulfilled. Meanwhile, from now until 2027, STEM jobs are expected to grow 13%. And if you’re wondering what jobs fall under the STEM umbrella, and how important they are, here are some examples:

  • Software Engineer
  • Pharmacy Technician 
  • Green Power Creator
  • Web Developer
  • Environmental Engineer

These jobs are crucial to sustaining and improving society as a whole, whether it’s finding ways to distribute information or discovering solutions to environmental issues.

How is STEM implemented in curriculum?

With the knowledge that STEM is significant to our success as a society, how do we make sure students are prepared to pursue a major and potential career in one of the many related fields? And more than that, how do we cultivate an interest in these subjects?

The first step is to make sure STEM is being integrated into your curriculum across the board. Chances are you offer science and math courses independently, but you can introduce key concepts and skills from STEM into classes you already have or partner with a virtual high school to provide more classes and expand your students’ opportunities.

But that’s not enough. The second and equally important step is to engage students. These subjects are not easy and there has been a declining interest in STEM over the last few years, making it harder to steer students in the direction of possibly pursuing a career in a related field. 

Schools like ASU Prep Digital use technology to keep students engaged and excited to learn, whether it’s launching a crew on a mission to Mars in their BioBeyond course, or taking virtual field trips. Giving students more virtual or hands-on activities enhances the learning experience and shows them how the concepts they’re mastering apply to real-world situations and careers.

STEM education is a vital part of every student’s education and introducing it in high school courses is a great way to pique their interest and encourage them to pursue it in future courses in college, and beyond.


Interested in learning more about how ASU Prep Digital incorporates STEM into their curriculum? Check out the career pathways students can explore within the STEM field and which courses are recommended for each major.


How Education Will Play a Crucial Role in the Future of Jobs

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Recent studies have shown that children will ultimately perform jobs that look and sound a lot different from the ones their parents had. New, unknown industries will be the engines of future job creation.

How can we prepare for a world that is both science fiction fantasy and reality at the same time? 

Education will play an important part.

When students use technology to practice timeless skills like creative and critical thinking, communication, and complex problem solving, they can adapt them to a rapidly changing job market. Resilience is formed by learning indispensable, foundational tools like these. 

Some areas that are predicted to expand in the future are Alternative Energy, Nursing, and Software Systems Development.

But imagine, students today will one day be performing jobs that don’t even exist yet! It’s an exciting time for them as they prepare for careers of the future.  


The students at ASU Prep Digital use technology in innovative ways and have the opportunity to explore everything from robotics to artificial intelligence as they imagine what the future will bring.

Learning success coaches help each student plan a career pathway designed with the unique interests and passions of the learner in mind. Whether it’s Mechanical Engineering, Health Sciences, or Global Politics, a personalized pathway allows students to start earning credit toward their major and prepares them to meet the unique demands of a rapidly evolving world. 

Interested in enrolling your student? Check out our high school and university course catalogs, or schedule a call with an admissions advisor to get started.