Originally published in Stillwater News Press on March 27, 2023
Options for public school students in Stillwater continue to grow through online charter schools – especially for military families.
About 30 students in Payne County are enrolled in Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy, one of seven K-12 online schools in the state – and the only virtual one to receive the honor of Oklahoma Purple Star designation from the Oklahoma State Department of Education.
Any student is eligible, but OVCA serves more than 130 military-connected students in the state. The Oklahoma Purple Star designation offers the virtual charter academy several ways to assist military families as they work through transitions in the armed forces.
“We were interested in it because we already had this military mindset,” Head of School Audra Plummer said. “Then we saw this Purple Star program. We wanted to be a part of that, so we worked to add some extra pieces to make sure that we would be an honoree for this designation.”
OVCA students come from all over Oklahoma, but the most concentrated areas of military families live in areas like Fort Sill, Lawton, Geronimo, Edmond, Enid and Oklahoma City.
“We have an additional layer (for) families who might be military because they have different experiences, so they might have experienced lots of schools and they may never have experienced virtual schools,” Plummer said.
Plummer said people wonder about the isolation that may come with a virtual school.
“We really strive to be a community, so our school has a set schedule at nine o’clock,” Plummer said. “They (read) at 10 o’clock. They do math with teachers and they interact with classmates virtually. We have clubs – we even have a fishing club.”
One of the main pieces the Purple Star program adds is a designated person who works with military families, called a student family resource coordinator. This military liaison connects the military families with other families in the school, providing support and activities.
“I previously worked as a school counselor in a very low socio-economic status school, but felt my knowledge and heart would be better applied in a position that focused solely on the element I loved – helping students in need of support outside the school walls,” said Kaylynn Watts, Student Family Resource Coordinator.
Watts began working toward the Purple Star Designation last year, but because she started from scratch, it took a while for the pieces to come together. She built the program from the ground up and customized it to fit OVCA’s model.
“My greatest joy in this role is seeing our families benefit from the support I am able to provide,” Watts said. “Students of military families endure some great challenges and barriers throughout their education. Many military families move frequently, and that can take a toll on children in terms of academic success and socialization in the classroom.”
Watts said OVCA staff is great at helping the students get settled and making them feel comfortable. Part of her challenge has been staying current on all the laws and services relating to students of military families such as graduation requirement exceptions and local resources, which are constantly changing.
Their school model includes a “wrap-around” support for students on the academic side. Teachers are grade-level certified in content areas they teach.
They have a student support model, with a student mentor for families, in addition to a community family advisor who lives in the community where the family lives and helps with immediate needs.
“Your algebra teacher might live in Tulsa, but you might live in Lawton,” Plummer said. “When a tornado comes through or electricity goes out, your algebra teacher in Tulsa may not know that because (the tornado) didn’t make it to Tulsa. So this community family advisor stays with the family through their journey at OVCA.”
As the student family resource counselor, Watts works hard to make sure that staff is aware of ongoing needs.
“Not everybody is living with two parents in this world,” Plummer said. “Just having that military emphasis, being aware of that.”
One of OVCA’s goals is helping students become vital Oklahomans and citizens. To that end, they’re constantly looking for ways to get involved in the community as a means of connecting and giving back. The community family adviser helps coordinate activities, from serving at soup kitchens to picking up trash to visiting the nursing home.
Plummer said OVCA is always looking for new ways to connect with the military and veterans.
“We’ve participated in the Veterans Day parade in different communities around our state,” Plummer said. “We’re really focused on helping our military and helping all of our students understand the importance of what our military families and students do for us.”
Micah, a senior, said her primary reason for choosing OVCA was that she works a full-time job and other school options don’t fill the need. She is planning to go to the University of Oklahoma and spent a good portion of her free time filling out paperwork.
“Honestly, since I’m constantly working, staying on top of homework is a bit tough sometimes,” she said. “But having teachers that are understanding and kind and willing to help out in any way, shape or form is amazing.”
Watts said she wishes more people knew how much OVCA values families that serve in the military.
“We want to go the extra mile to serve these families and students, whether that is in our school or elsewhere,” Watts said. “As a Stride school (curriculum), OVCA has a relationship with other Stride schools across the country to make the transition easier for families moving frequently.”
Receiving the Oklahoma Purple Star designation helps keep military families in mind, Plummer said.
“What we have today is a privilege and we need to be respectful for those who helped to give us that,” Plummer said. “Sometimes these designations just remind us that there are important people here doing things, and we need to be aware of that and we need to be part of that.”
To learn more about Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy, visit https://ovca.k12.com/