Brandywine Virtual Academy graduates two, boasts enrollment boom

The Brandywine Heights Virtual Academy boasts a 100 percent graduation rate and a boom in enrollment, while saving the district money.

Brandywine Heights High School Principal Heather Piperato showed a BHVA presentation by Carolyn Hanych, coordinator of the virtual academy, at a school board meeting June 4. The BHVA is an online education system for students in a non-traditional classroom setting. The program, which began with seven students, now has 56 students enrolled for the upcoming school year.

Piperato addressed the academy's merit at the meeting, noting that among this year's more than 150 high school graduates were two students from the program who dropped out of high school not once, but twice each.

'They're on that graduating list because they decided to give our online school a shot,' Piperato said. 'Even if it counted against us in graduation rates a few years ago, we feel that we did them a good service by allowing them one more way to get them hooked into school.'

With a success rate of 100 percent, the BHVA is clearly doing something right.

'You don't get a 100 graduation rate out of the shoot,' Dr. Martin Handler, superintendent on the Brandywine Heights Area School District, said.

'Our virtual academy is successful because we keep open communication with parents and students regarding the child's progress and we provide local support to meet the child's needs,' said Hanych.

The virtual academy is much more cost-effective than other online options. A normal cyber charter school costs between $9,500 and $22,500 per student. The BHVA cost per student is less than $4,000, saving taxpayers between $5,500 and $17,500, according to a presentation by Hanych.

'While we don't believe that online education is for every child, it does give us another option to offer to kids other than the cyber charter.' Piperato said.

A lot goes into preparing students for online learning as the school year approaches, Dr. Handler said. The virtual academy works to acclimate not only students, but their parents, too. When a student enrolls in the program, they are provided a personalized education plan to meet their goals and interests. It also offers students local support, the option to have a blended schedule and participation in school events, activities and extra-curriculars, Hanych said.

Based on an approximate growth rate of 78 percent, Hanych expects continual growth that may reach 95 students by the end of the upcoming school year, she said, and that calls for more assistance. A virtual academy aide, who will likely be the librarian, will work more closely with the program. Instead of dedicating five hours a week to the academy, the aide will now spend 25 hours a week working with the program.

'The virtual academy aide is responsible to run attendance and progress reports, enter attendance and grades in our data management system, manage billing from online providers, maintain the BHVA budget, communicate with BHVA students and parents and organize and manage all BHVA documents and students' files,' Hanych said.

This increase in the aide's time will allow Hanych to work more closely with students' families, support existing cyber students and make it a positive experience for them, Dr. Handler said.

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