A Virtual School Success Story: One district shares how to integrate a virtual program, including pitfalls to avoid, and strategies for getting it right the first time

August 11, 2020 Sarah Williamson By Sarah Williamson
Big Rapids Virtual School

We know that education leaders are doing all they can to ensure the safety of students, teachers, and staff for the start of school this fall. Many districts are also navigating numerous requests from families to offer a virtual program. Districts may have addressed these concerns in their reopening plans and are now finding that the current situation requires further action.

A recent USA TODAY poll found that 60 percent of parents with at least one child in K–12 education said they would likely pursue at-home learning options rather than send their child back to school in the fall. Thirty percent said they were "very likely" to keep their children at home. A separate poll found that 1 in 5 teachers were unlikely to return to reopened classrooms.

To support this growing need, an increasing number of districts are implementing their own virtual schools. The virtual school model provides options to expand learning opportunities beyond school walls and also ensures that all students have access to high-quality instruction.

There are clear benefits to providing this option. Offering a fully virtual program provides districts with the ability to keep students within the district and allows families to maintain a connection to their school communities. Even as the school year is nearly underway, it’s not too late to start a new virtual program or expand upon what is already in place.

In our 14th podcast episode of Opportunity Thrives, a show where we are committed to better supporting the needs of today’s secondary students, we spoke with Tim Buckingham, the Virtual School Mentor at Big Rapids Public Schools, in Big Rapids, Michigan. Tim shares the district’s process of launching, refining and eventually hitting their stride with their virtual school.


Throughout the episode, Tim shares lessons learned (there are many!), how they have managed to increase student outcomes even in a pandemic, and practical suggestions for other districts as they consider how to develop their own virtual schools.  


Tim has been an educator for over 40 years and has a diverse background in education. He has spent many years at the high school level as a teacher and administrator and over 15 years as an elementary principal. The last seven years, he’s helped to establish the district’s virtual school, Big Rapids Virtual School, and today he serves as the school’s teacher/mentor. He retired five years ago, but loves his job so much that he keeps coming back!

As we navigate this new way of learning, it’s certainly beneficial to speak with experts like Tim whose advice and guidance will benefit our community of listeners who are making their virtual school plans right now.

You can find the full episode here: www.opportunitythrives.com.  

We would also love to hear your comments on the show or other topic ideas you recommend. Reach out to us today at info@opportunitythrives.com.


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