ARLINGTON, Virginia — To accommodate families and educators who prefer remote education during the pandemic, the Diocese of Arlington is launching a fully online education option this year — the new St. Isidore of Seville Diocesan Virtual School, named after the patron saint of the internet.
Several teachers, faculty and school families, particularly those who are medically vulnerable, had expressed interest in the creation of such a school. The diocesan Office of Catholic Schools is recruiting around 30 teachers and looking to enroll a maximum of 207 students at the single-track kindergarten through eighth grade school, with an anticipated start date of Sept. 8.
Leslie Lipovski, diocesan assistant superintendent of curriculum and assessment, will serve as interim principal.
Currently, about two-thirds of diocesan schools plan to offer in-person instruction in the fall, said Joseph Vorbach, diocesan superintendent of schools, while the other third will offer online and in-person hybrid models. While there are clear benefits to in-person instruction, said Vorbach, during these uncertain times, St. Isidore will offer the stability of a totally online environment with experienced educators.
“Whereas it’s possible some of our parish schools are going to have to go to e-learning and then come back out, once you commit to (St. Isidore), you know your child will be in a consistent online and Catholic environment for the whole year,” said Vorbach.
St. Isidore students will have the benefit of the approved and accredited diocesan curriculum, Lipovski said.
“I think the goal with a lot of these families is to be (at St. Isidore) this year because of the pandemic, (but) we’re all hopeful that the following year they can return to their home school,” she told the Arlington Catholic Herald, diocesan newspaper. “If they’re in our diocesan virtual school, they haven’t missed a concept or standard” that they might miss in a non-diocesan school.
White believes she and other diocesan educators have learned a lot from their foray into online learning earlier this year that they will implement in this online school. “In the spring, we were reacting to the situation,” she said. “What makes St. Isidore different is the intentionality of creating a virtual school that brings in a lot of the best practices of what a virtual school should be, for example, the class size will be capped smaller than in in-person instruction.
One advantage will be the opportunity for the families to watch the weekly livestreamed Mass together. “One of the things that make Catholic schools great is that you’re able to attend weekly Mass as a community and here, we also have an opportunity to evangelize to parents and families,” she said.
Part of the tuition, which is around $6,000 per student, will go to support the diocesan schools that will be losing students and faculty to St. Isidore. Some of the money will go to the schools where the teachers came from and some money will go to students’ schools to incentivize them to hold a spot in the classroom for that child the following school year. Families receiving financial aid at their previous school will receive the same percentage of aid at St. Isidore.
If the school reaches full enrollment, parents will receive a rebate lowering tuition. Tuition for other diocesan schools varies based on the school, the number of students enrolled per family, and if that family belongs to the parish, but rates range from about $6,200 per student to $11,000 per student.
While St. Isidore was created to serve the needs of some in the Catholic school community during the pandemic, the diocese will see if St. Isidore will be viable even after the pandemic. The Office of Catholic Schools is examining other virtual school models and seeing if St. Isidore would be of interest to families who prefer home schooling.
Maraist is a staff writer at the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington.