Greenville County Schools Add Virtual School for 5K-12 Grade

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Update 8/5/20: Virtual program school supply list for K-5th grade is now available here. Middle school students just need their Chromebooks and papers and pens.

Greenville County Schools is adding a completely virtual program for 2020-21. We have compiled a lot of information about the program in this story, including a live interview with Jeff McCoy from the Greenville County School system.

Local certified teachers who are only focused on virtual instruction will be teaching students and at the secondary level, students will be instructed certified subject specialists.

The deadline for fall enrollment to the GCS Virtual Program is July 27th. You may apply after that date and could possibly be accepted if there is space. Parents cannot enroll their child(ren) after the school year starts on August 24th. Register here. If parents want to return to traditional school after the fall semester, they are welcome to do so after participating in the virtual education program.

How will this work?

GCS released a FAQ document that answers a lot of questions parents have about the Virtual Program.

The school day will look similar to one that happens in brick-and-mortar schools. There will be both live and recorded lessons with time dedicated to small group and individual lessons. Students will be able to take breaks for recreation and lunch. Here is what an elementary school day will look like (screenshot below) and here’s what a middle school day may be. High school schedules will be decided by each individual school.

Kids who already have their magnet and/or choice slot will be able to keep that if they choose the virtual option. And if you choose the virtual program for your child and want to switch them to in-person instruction mid-year if conditions regarding the spread of the virus improves, you may be able to do it if there is room in the classroom but it’s not guaranteed.

Most classes will be available online except for some that require more hands-on like Career Center and Fine Arts.

For parents who have children with special needs and are interested in the Virtual Program, GCS states: “Yes, if you are interested in the Virtual Program, please apply. Your child’s IEP team will meet to review and identify individual accommodations that will be necessary to support your child’s unique needs.”

And there is no lottery process to get into the GCS Virtual Program. Any student who applies will be accepted – but you need to apply by the deadline of July 27, 2020. If you apply after that date, you may be accepted if there is space.

Lots More Answers

We interviewed Jeff McCoy with Greenville County Schools about the Virtual Program, which you can watch below. We also answered several questions below the video about virtual school.

Virtual School Questions

Can I still register for virtual school?

While the deadline is passed, the application as of now is still open. If there is space available, GCS has indicated students who apply after July 27th could be accepted.

Since so much will be happening virtually, there were questions about digital access to content. I understood from our earlier conversations about YouTube that the District has a number of approved and not-approved digital platforms that teachers can access. Is either of those lists publicly available?
Derek Lewis: This list is on our website:
https://www.greenville.k12.sc.us/Parents/main.asp?titleid=coppa

What will the process look like to obtain teachers for the virtual program if not enough have interviewed and been hired? What about if teachers choose to teach virtually – will they be able to get their jobs back in the classroom at a later date)

GCS has said in a live Q&A that teacher shortages are not an issue. While GCS cannot guarantee brick-and-mortar jobs will remain for teachers who choose the virtual program, they will make every effort to get them back into the classroom.

If I am in the in-person option in elementary school, and I have an online day approximately how many hours a day will I be in class?

Derek Lewis: Your time “in class” will not be continual.  Your teacher will provide a video or reading material or an original source to review and you will have work to do related to that.  This should be the case for each subject.  The amount of time spent on these will vary from child to child, but during Plans 1 and 2, the teacher is not available all day to be hosting Google Meets (as in 100% eLearning).  The teacher may have a Google Meet with the online students during his/her planning period.

How many hours will virtual school be in Elementary School?

Derek Lewis: Virtual school will follow a normal school -day schedule, especially at MS and HS where you will move from one Google Meet or recorded lesson to the next.  Teachers will deliver content, just as in a regular in-person class, followed by students doing work to reinforce learning.  Just as in in-person school, some students will do the work quickly and others slowly.

If multiple neighborhood children in the same grade select the virtual option, can a request be submitted that they all be placed with the same teacher?

It was recently stated in a recent QA that GCS is attempting to keep children from the same public schools in the same classes in virtual school. If your child is in a magnet school, GCS has said they will try to keep kids from same schools in the same virtual classes.

What will a typical Virtual Program day look like?

Jeff McCoy, GCS: The virtual program will look like a regular school day and broken up in blocks of 30 minutes, which are grade-level appropriate. Lessons may be 10 or 15 minutes for lower grades and then do smaller group lessons. Work will be assigned to the students not working in the small groups, much like it would happen at in-person school. High school will look more like a regular day and those schedules are being handled by each individual high school. The same schedule will hold for the virtual program. There will be independent work and lessons and breaks and related arts and challenge. We don’t expect students to be on a computer for 6.5 hours. Smaller kids will have work that can be done on paper, like handwriting.

How much hands on time do parents need to plan?

Jeff McCoy: We are planning for independent work but it does depend on the child. Kindergarten and first grade will probably take more hands on time from the parents, unless the child is unusually independent.

How will attendance be taken?

Jeff McCoy: It will depend on the student logging online every day. We understand that some kids will need to do sessions later at night or at different times and they just need to login and do the work every day.

Will there be homework for virtual school?

Jeff McCoy: We want everything to be done during the class work time during the day for elementary. For older grades, it’s possible they could have homework. If the kids need to take a break during the day and resume later, that’s fine.

What technology will the students use?

Jeff McCoy: Students will use Google Meets for interactive classes on their state-issued Chromebooks.

Can you complete virtual learning outside of the country?

Jeff McCoy: Technically, yes. You can do it anywhere. The reading group is the only lessons we can’t record and it will be personalized so teachers need to have students there together.

How many students will virtual academy elementary school students be assigned? Will they have more students than hybrid teachers?  

Jeff McCoy: 20-25 for grades K-1, 25-30 for grades 2-5, for grades 6-8 150-180.

 Will teachers teaching via eLearning and the Virtual program be using the Google GSuite of tools/apps or will they be using something else?

Jeff McCoy: All teachers will be using Google Classroom. For the younger ones, teachers may be choose Seesaw but GCS is recommending Google Meets.

For virtual learning on the days we do not attend in person, is it 4K-2nd paper work and 3rd-5th chrome books? Will we have “homework” on top of daily virtual work as well? Is the virtual learning sign on at a certain time and sign off a certain time? Or can it be done on the weekend/evenings?

Every student will receive a Chromebook. The homework question and timing is answered above. And regarding the time of logging in and doing work not during school hours, Jeff McCoy says yes, but it’s important to login each day and do those assignments. Reach out to the teacher to ask for more time or talk to them about your circumstances.

Will students use textbooks?

Jeff McCoy: Almost all our textbooks are now in digital format. Some things are being sent home like consumables. If parents want a textbook for their child, they can check one out if they think it will be helpful.

Will there be a list of supplies students need to purchase?

Jeff McCoy: Yes, they are available here.

How do LEAP days work for virtual students?

Jeff McCoy: Virtual students, if they are comfortable, can attend in the afternoons. The state is required to test all students, which will happen for the virtual students. If parents aren’t comfortable with that, parents can come by and pick up the Chromebooks another day.

Would students be able to take those LEAP tests if they don’t go to the LEAP days?

Jeff McCoy: Right now, we have no way to have students take them online. So if the student doesn’t go to LEAP week, they will not take those state-required assessment tests.

Will there be a Meet the Teacher?

Jeff McCoy: There will be a virtual Meet the Teacher night.

What about related arts?

Jeff McCoy: We will do performing arts, including band and chorus, both in-person and online. Related arts will look somewhat like the spring. Our teachers have been working on recording videos and lessons. Elementary students will still have an art, PE, and music block and have videos to go through them. Teachers are available. We’ve brought on teams of related arts instructors to teach for virtual.

Can students who are in the virtual program participate in sports?

Yes, they are able to participate in GCS sports if they want.

Will students need special supplies for art class?

Jeff McCoy: Depending on the grade level, we’ve tried to limit those and what parents will have to purchase.

If my child wants to be in orchestra and he/she is in the virtual program, who should we contact?

Jeff McCoy: You can contact your school and they will guide you through that.

Will students go to the Career Center courses?

These will continue to be done in-person and not virtual. It’s one day a week and those spaces are much larger than our normal classrooms. Sanitizing and cleaning is the same.

Will students have chemistry and biology labs?

Jeff McCoy: We do have some labs that are virtual and are considering the idea of having some in-person labs that may be on a Saturday. That may not be a requirement but we do want students to have the benefits of hands-on experiences, which are more lab-intensive.

What will virtual school look like for challenge and gifted students?

Jeff McCoy: It will look similar to in-person school where schools break it up on certain days. They will have the same amount of hours they would have on the elementary level. For middle school, we are still offering all the gifted & talented students. The same thing applies for SPED and ELL services.

Will kids be able to interact with each other?

Jeff McCoy: Yes, Google has fixed some of these issues and students were creating their own Google Meet sessions. Sometimes those sessions weren’t monitored. Once a teacher leaves that Google Meet, the meeting shuts down. The teacher can make Google Meets for students to work together and collaborate.

Can virtual students pick up library books?

Jeff McCoy: We should be able to make this happen but not positive. We have subscribed to several library repositories as well so we’ll have access to those for students.

Is the elementary reading group for school hours only?

Yes, because that’s when our teachers are available. We’ll record ELA and reading (but not reading group) and have assignments for them.

Chromebook Questions

Can we hook external hardware (headset, monitor) to the Chromebooks?  

Jeff McCoy: Yes, many of our students wear headphones. They have an HDMI port and should be able to hook it in (or purchase an adapter).

Are there Chromebook fees?

Jeff McCoy: No, not unless they lose them. Parents needs to pick them up on the LEAP week or on the following week.

What happens if our kid breaks or loses the Chromebook?

Jeff McCoy: Oftentimes we can track them if they are stolen. If they are broken, contact your school. We are setting up repair sites around the county. They will get a loaner Chromebook while the broken one is being repaired.

Can we use our own Chromebooks?

Jeff McCoy: Yes but some things won’t work as well on your own. Some times during the year, we will require online testing and we can only lockdown our own Chromebooks so you’ll need to use these.

Are Chromebooks touchscreen for Kindergarten?

No, they are not.

How will GCS handle tech problems for Chromebooks?

Jeff McCoy: Make sure you’re using GCS Chromebooks. We had to pivot quickly this past spring so hopefully this year, we won’t have similar problems. Sometimes kids aren’t logged into their Google account (as opposed to their parents’ account) and that will cause problems. There were certainly some things that didn’t work and we’ve trained teachers on how to set permissions and we have a whole tech support for the virtual programs that should be able to help.

Parents Are Thinking of Other Options

According to the GCS online survey of more than 27,000 parents and caregivers in the district, 55% of parents said they were either unsure or would definitely not send their students back to school this fall.

South Carolina does have established online charter schools. You can listen to an interview we did recently with the head of the SC Cyber Academy here.

And if homeschooling is on your radar, here’s how to get started in South Carolina.

Here is a summary of what the Greenville County Schools 2020-21 school year will look like.

About the Author
Kristina Hernandez is a mom of two girls, freelance writer and photographer. Originally from New Jersey, she is in love with the Upstate and could not imagine raising her kids anywhere else. She enjoys hiking to waterfalls, kayaking, camping, cooking, and exploring all that Greenville has to offer. And she really loves baby goats. Follow her on Instagram at @scadventurer.

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