PECULIAR, Mo. — When school begins on Aug. 24 in the Raymore Peculiar School District, about 20 percent of the district’s 6,300 students will be taking online courses through the district’s brand new, homegrown, virtual school, called VIPR: Virtual Instruction Program of Ray-Pec.
“We call it the 'Ray-Pec way' when we put our spin on things,” explained Karmin Ricker, the district’s instructional design and technology coordinator.
Ricker said the new virtual school is a big improvement on the distance learning model the coronavirus pandemic forced the district to roll out during the spring semester.
This summer, teachers have been training on the platform, recording lessons and preparing for the change.
“We want them to feel like school can be school online, just as it can be in-person. It’s just going to look different, it’s going to sound different,” Ricker explained.
By creating its own virtual platform, the district is saving money and jobs.
Assistant Superintendent of Academic Services Dr. Al Voelker said many districts across Missouri are using taped lessons from the Springfield School District. Ray-Pec will use those lessons for certain specialty subjects or electives.
Voelker said VIPR allows Ray-Pec teachers to teach Ray-Pec students. That way students see a familiar face, the district can better control learning standards, pacing, consistency and keep teachers employed.
“Our community trusts us with their tax dollars and it’s our job to make sure we’re spending them appropriately. Hiring our teachers to teach our students keeps those dollars local and we think, in the long run, it’s best academically and fiscally as well,” Voelker explained.
Andrea Becker will teach sixth grade science and social studies strictly online this school year.
“I don’t think this is something that is necessarily ever going away. This is what the future is going to. So I figured why not just jump on and be a part of it,” she explained.
VIPR is the online school, but students will access lessons through Canvas, Seesaw, Google Meets and other programs teachers can incorporate into their online plans.
Aside from teaching, Becker knows it’s important for her to create the atmosphere her students expect in a school setting.
“I need to be a connection for them to their classroom, not just their teacher behind the screen, but rather someone who is actually there, even though we’re not actually there,” Becker said.
About 80 percent of families chose to return to traditional, in-person classes this fall.
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