Originally published in West Valley View on May 17, 2023
The world changed when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools, restaurants and other facilities.
Many in-person activities and gatherings, such as education, were deemed unsafe, spiraling into a vast unknown of how to continue.
From there, online learning has picked up more steam. But the concept alone has long preceded its recent momentum, as organizations like Arizona Virtual Academy (AZVA) and Insight Academy of Arizona (ISAZ) have been using a similar format long before the forced lockdown.
Both programs have since grown in the online education field, and they each recently honored 300 students between kindergarten and 12th grade for their respective achievements in career and technical education (CTE) at the Goodyear Recreation Center.
“I think it means everything,” said Dr. Erica Young-Jackson, career and college prep administrator for Arizona Virtual Academy and Insight Academy of Arizona.
“A lot of our students come to us from brick and mortar because they’ve either been bullied, or the environment wasn’t great for them. With virtual learning, you always try to make sure you have that social aspect. But I think even having the social aspect, and then acknowledging all their great work, just takes it to the next level.”
The students in the CTE program are well represented across the country. With their program heavily geared toward their career after education, the specialization has allowed its students to receive national attention.
Five students from the program are receiving National Technical Honors Society honors; three students won first place in the 2023 Healthcare Occupation Student Organization’s State Leadership Conference and will travel to Dallas to compete against national competition; 95 ISAZ students earned CTE certifications in various fields; and in the CTE program’s first year, 46 AZVA students received certifications.
The emphasis on life after education is one thing that Young-Jackson feels is vital for students’ success.
“I think it’s extremely important,” she said. “Just because we’re 100% virtual in career prep, we have that area that we’re the next step over just getting your traditional high school graduation diploma. We want you to push yourself. We want you to come to work-based learning and get that hands-on experience and work with our internships and all those things.”
The positive, career-focused approach is one that hits home with Young-Jackson, as she is always on the hunt for new programs to add. She feels that the professional connections of her staff will be a benefit to the students later in their lives.
“I’m looking at what the industry needs, what’s competitive, what’s in demand, and making sure that we are putting our students in positions that will help them succeed,” Young-Jackson said. “It’s really making sure that we’re aligning with East Coast, West Coast, north, south, what our students would be able to jump out into, and I think it’s important that our students also have a buy-in.”
Young-Jackson knows that the work that has been done in the CTE program is not of her own doing, though. She said her staff has been just as instrumental, if not more so than herself in getting their students to take the next step.
“I have the most amazing staff. I love my team,” she said. “I started off at (ISAZ) as the business teacher six years ago when we started our CTE programs. And I grew it to my position two and a half years ago. And we’ve just been able to grow our programs from program approval with the state to our kids competing (in competitions).
“I think they’re amazing. They’re all out here with these kids, and they just love to celebrate their achievements and you see that day to day in class.”
To learn more about Arizona Virtual Academy, visit https://azva.k12.com/.
To learn more about Insight Academy of Arizona, visit https://insightaz.k12.com/.