SUNBURY — Shikellamy Virtual Academy teachers Eric Attinger and Rachel Gittens are now nationally known.
Gittens, who has been teaching the cyber school program for the past three years, was recently recognized as the November “Academy of the Month” by the National Education Foundation.
“It is a great honor for us here at Shikellamy,” Gittens said. “We are continuing to grow this program and it to be recognized for our hard work is truly an honor.”
Superintendent Jason Bendle said this past summer he intended to push the program and wanted it to become a model for other districts across the state to follow.
“This is the way of the future,” Bendle said about the virtual academy.
“I am proud of our staff and to see this program continue to grow and get recognized for what we are doing is impressive.”
Bendle said the academy provides a more rigorous curriculum then outside cyber options and offers a virtual lab at the high school where students work with Gittens.
“I love this, and it gives me an opportunity to work while I am in school,” senior Madison Yarsky, 18, said. “The flexibility of this is exactly what I needed and I am just learning so much more at my own pace.”
Keshawn Martin, 14, said he loves the academy because he can get one-on-one attention from his teachers.
“I continue to learn and if I get stuck I just come in and they can show me what I am doing wrong,” he said. “This is the best program for me and I actually can’t wait to come in and get to work and learn.”
Attinger, Director of the Virtual Academy, attributes it to the growth of the program and to student goal accomplishments with coursework and grades, he said.
Bendle said there are about 84 current cyber school students.
Bendle said over the summer the district was spending $1.2 million and students were going to other cyber schools.
Bendle’s goal was to bring a lot of those students back to the district, he said.
Shikellamy right now only provides 6th- through 12th-grade virtual academy. If the district decides to go with a full cyber school and add K through 5th grades, the district will not only save but be able to add teaching jobs.
“If they chose to come back to the district, then they get to participate in sports, all activities including school dances. Most importantly they get a Shikellamy diploma and we will be able to get a few more teachers,” Bendle said.
Bendle said in 2017-18 the district spent $1.3 million on cyber school students and will spend about the same in 2018-19.
Bendle said another advantage of keeping students in the district is that students will have the option of coming to school or staying home. “They can come in when they want,” he said. “Some people may like the class they are taking and want to come to the building. We can customize schedules for each student.”
Pennsylvania has 14 cyber school charters that enroll more than 37,000 students according to the department of education. In the Valley, Shikellamy, Lewisburg, Danville, Milton, Selinsgrove, Warrior Run and Midd-West all have cyber schooling within the district.