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story.lead_photo.caption Daxton Tessmer, 10, begins his first day as a fourth-grader in the Fayetteville Virtual Academy from a hotel room in Bellingham, Wash., where his family is spending a few days before beginning a journey through Alaska. - Photo by Courtesy Photo / MCKENYA TESSMER

FAYETTEVILLE -- Maddox Benard, 12, and Ava Benard, 10, spent the morning of the first day of school at the new Fayetteville Virtual Academy thinking about what to make out of painted cardboard 3D shapes, LED lights and paper vellum.

Photo by David Gottschalk
Alissa Benard looks on as Juli Johnson (from right), English language arts and social studies teacher at Fayetteville Virtual Academy, reviews the computer access with Maddox Benard, his sisters Indie and Ava, at the academy.
Photo by David Gottschalk
Artist Rae McVey places a headpiece on Matt Wilson, a teacher at the Fayetteville Virtual Academy, on Wednesday at the charter school on the first day of classes for the Fayetteville Public Schools’s traditional calendar schools. McVey and artist Eugene Sargent instructed the students at the school with creating a light-emitting diodes project.

A funnel-shaped, round box with two open ends reminded Maddox, a seventh-grader, of a fire pit, and Ava, a fifth-grader, described her finished piece as a bouquet of flowers.

Fayetteville School District

Superintendent Matthew Wendt

16 schools, plus an Adult and Community Education Center

First day head count: 9,320 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, compared with a first day total of 9,225 last year

Official enrollment for 2015-16: 9,652

— Staff report

"It's pretty cool," Ava said. "It was kind of hard. In the beginning, I was like what do I do? I just started folding paper, and this is what happened."

Fellow Virtual Academy student Daxton Tessmer, 10, began his first day of fourth grade by logging in from a hotel room in northern Washington, where he'll be with his family of five for a few days before boarding a ferry on the Alaska Marine Highway.

More than 9,300 students attended the first day of school across the Fayetteville School District on Wednesday. The district's new online charter school has 65 enrolled students in the fourth through eighth grades, including 18 who received permission to transfer into the district. Plans are for the school to enroll about 500 children in kindergarten through 12th grade by the 2019-20 school year.

Superintendent Matthew Wendt, on his first day with the district, spent the morning riding on a school bus to greet students, parents and grandparents. The bus ride took him to three schools, and he visited two others separately.

Fayetteville Virtual Academy adds online learning to the district, with the ability to meet the needs of a variety of families, including the family traveling through Alaska, he said

"Online learning is a part of the fabric of education," Wendt said. "Arguably it may be the fastest growing form of educating students."

Principal JoAnna Lever hoped for a smooth first day, but some technical difficulties kept fourth- and fifth-graders from logging into some classes in the morning. Her goals for this first week are for students and teachers to get acclimated to a new way of learning and to establish daily routines.

"We've been preparing and planning," Lever said. "It's exciting that the first day is finally here."

School days with the Virtual Academy will consist of students logging into online courses at various times of the day, she said. Academic work online will combine with in-person "field experiences" and meetings with teachers.

The first field experience Wednesday gave students a chance to work with local artists Eugene Sargent and Rae McVey on LED light projects that will be combined into a unified display for the school, McVey said.

Alissa Benard's children have experienced home school and public school, and Fayetteville Virtual Academy provided a way to combine the benefits of both, she said. Two of her three children are in Fayetteville Virtual Academy. Her youngest, 7-year-old Indie, will begin second grade Monday with another new online charter school, Arkansas Connections Academy based in Bentonville. That school isn't part of a school district.

On Monday, Benard set up laptop computers in the family's kitchen and living room, but each child also has a desk to have a quiet space to work. A computer armoire in the living room stores their curriculum material and school supplies.

"I just saw this opportunity with the Virtual Academy," said Benard, who applied for a transfer into Fayetteville School District from the Elkins School District. "It just felt like it was made for my family."

School days for Maddox will mean waking up and getting ready in the mornings, though not as early as he had to get up to go to school in Elkins last year, he said. He and his sisters will work online, but they also will go to the Virtual Academy one or two days a week. He also will go to Woodland Junior High School for two classes each afternoon.

Ava has learned her email address for school. An orientation session introduced her to an online program she will use to see and talk to classmates and teachers over the Internet, she said.

The Benard family will learn how virtual schooling works along with the staff. The teachers worked with the family through the summer to develop personal learning plans to tailor education to the needs of each child, Benard said. The plans gave her children time to think about what they are interested in studying, she said.

Her daughter, who enjoys riding horses, is interested in the care of animals, while her son will play football at Woodland as a way to pursue his interest in sports, she said.

"They have choices and the ability to guide their education," Benard said. "When they graduate, they will have been able to study what they want to study toward the career they want to pursue."

The Tessmers have a home in Fayetteville, but are frequent travelers. In previous school years, the family has taken long trips toward the end of the school year, McKenya Tessmer said. This year is different.

After touring Alaska, the family will return to Fayetteville for several weeks before going to Ecuador for several months so their children can learn Spanish, Thomas Tessmer said. As the school year has neared, the family has realized the virtual school will require more consistent Internet access than anticipated. Lever and her staff have worked to accommodate, sending the family two large binders worth of material.

The curriculum provides a guide for McKenya Tessmer to follow, but the work is more intense than she anticipated, with live science experiments and lessons on each of Daxton's spelling words that go beyond the lists of words he had to learn to spell each week at Root Elementary School.

"I didn't ever anticipate that we would home-school or do anything like this," McKenya Tessmer said. "Just because of our travel plans, we've had to research some different options. We're hoping that the Fayetteville Virtual Academy will work for us."

On Wednesday, Daxton, the only one of their three children enrolled in the school, was among students who experienced difficulty logging into some of his classes, but he was able to access Spanish and finish two lessons. He started reading one of four novels required for fourth grade, McKenya Tessmer said. The family went on a tour of the Boeing Factory in Everett, Wash., and hoped to resume school in the evening once the technical glitches were resolved, she said.

Daxton enjoys playing sports, especially baseball, and likes games of tag with his friends. The summer seemed to end too quickly, he said. He's a little nervous about starting in a new type of school, but he thinks having online classes will be a little easier because he can type.

"I'll have my mom to help me," he said.

NW News on 08/18/2016

Print Headline: Fayetteville's first day includes beginning of online school

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