That’s Ryan Fox, practicing his music. This bright seventeen-year-old is a dedicated musician and very accomplished timpanist. In fact, his commitment and talent won him a place in the 2010 Sound of America Honor Band, a national youth band that annually represents the United States on a tour of six European countries. Only the best youth musicians are selected.
Ryan is also a hard-working student and an all around smart guy. Due to autism, he has unique learning needs. He struggles with auditory processing and needs frequent repetition. He also has trouble forming his thoughts into sentences quickly.
Ryan’s parents saw their son’s potential and his unmet needs in traditional public school. His mom, an MIT Masters degree holder and engineer, told us, “He would sit at school for six hours and not learn anything.” Why not? Because Ryan learns differently. It’s that simple. “After school, he would come home and we would start the school day over again.”
This year Ryan finished his first year as a student at Washington Virtual Academy.
Kathy wrote a letter to the Superintendent and school board of the Monroe Public School District, where Washington Virtual Academy (9-12) is primarily based. In it she explained how online learning has met and exceeded their expectations and thanked WAVA and the Monroe School District for their innovation and leadership. Kathy was kind enough to share this letter with iLearn (emphasis added below):
January 28, 2010
Dear School Administrators and Board Members:
I am writing to thank you for your vision and energy in making WAVA High School available in our state. I will be contacting my elected representatives in Olympia to make them aware of these sentiments as well. We have found in WAVA a crucial answer to the educational needs of our son. I could imagine that your administrative challenges may be significant, but I hope you will continue to do what is required to reach students with this program.
I would like to take the opportunity to share our family’s story. My son is a junior at WAVA High School. He actually attends three different schools this year–Edmonds Community College as a Running Start student; his regular “brick and mortar” high school near our home; and WAVA High School. He is a straight-A student who loves math, science, and music and who hopes to become a professional timpanist. We initially chose WAVA merely as a convenience to address a scheduling problem–his particular EdCC courses for fall quarter did not allow him time to return to his other school for certain classes. I must tell you, though, what has happened is that WAVA has delighted us with strong curriculum and has opened our eyes to the possibilities of online learning for our son in ways we could never have predicted.
We have discovered in WAVA a nearly ideal learning environment for our son. He has autism and related learning challenges. His oral language processing abilities are extremely slow, so being able to take WAVA online lessons that permit him to stop, rewind, and replay everything repeatedly until he has mastered the material is crucial. I will never forget the expression of absolute, thrilled astonishment on his face during the first couple of days of his Physics and Personal Finance courses last fall. For the first time in his life, he realized that everything would be okay–nobody would talk too fast for him to follow! He could hear the material over again anytime he chose and wouldn’t need to ask for notes and then hope to receive them. And he wouldn’t have to feel stressed, wondering what he missed each day when somebody said it all too quickly. It was one of those moments a parent deeply cherishes, and I recognize that all of your hard work is what made it possible. My son loves online learning so much that he is now, during winter quarter, taking two EdCC classes entirely online. They are going well!
We realize we are providing a challenge to WAVA with our unique student. He is at once: (a) a straight-A student who needs rigorous material; (b) a special education student with autism and a detailed IEP; (c) a Running Start student; and (d) a student who remains in both music and academics at his other high school. The WAVA team has risen to the challenge and is succeeding beyond our expectations. If you can deliver what our child needs, you can likely deliver what nearly anyone needs. Good job! We wish all parents could know about WAVA. We are grateful that Washington State allows for a school like this, and we are delighted that the Monroe School District has taken up the work of making it happen.
We find WAVA teachers to be a bright, dedicated, heartwarmingly enthusiastic team. They exude a special joy for what they are doing. If you haven’t personally communicated with them, I would encourage you to make the effort. I’ve been an active parent in the public schools for more than 15 years, and I think the WAVA teachers are definitely among the best. It can be a challenge for anyone to bring together an effective, nurturing classroom with participants from all over the state who may never meet in person … yet your WAVA professionals do it every single day. Hats off to them!
Also, as board members and administrators, if you haven’t personally “sat in” on a WAVA class, I hope you will try it soon. The students are eager to be there and definitely work hard. They are polite and very creative about building a close online community with other kids, complete with clubs and advisors just as you’d find at any high school. My son joined Key Club and is considering Science Club. He feels welcome and valued. By the way, he has already been on more academic field trips in just four months at WAVA than in his previous 10 years of schooling combined.
Thank you for reading through this lengthy story about what a difference WAVA has made in my son’s academic day. He enjoys his classes very much. As taxpayers, my husband and Please let us know if we can support your efforts in any way.
Katherine L. Rowe
While representing the United States with the Sound of America band this year, Ryan also represented the many students with unique learning needs. He also demonstrates what’s possible when a menu of options are available to meet those needs.
Virtual learning is one of those options.