When the whole education world turned virtual, we were already halfway there. At Rio Rancho Cyber Academy (RRCA) outside Albuquerque, we’ve been providing a blended model of in-person and virtual learning since long before anyone had even heard of COVID-19. I like to think we are a hidden gem in the Rio Rancho schools that a lot of people just don’t know about; we can offer options that other places can’t simply because we are an alternative school.

Like every district, however, the pandemic forced us to pursue an all-virtual model out of necessity, not just to serve students who might benefit from that approach. Although we were in a unique position to provide these options, doing so was still new for us, and we had to adapt. This year, 125 students in grades 6–12 attend our blended school in person two days a week, and 175 students are enrolled in our all-virtual school.

One thing we have figured out is how we can educate a population of students who probably needed to have had a virtual option for some time now. We have students with autoimmune disorders, students with social anxiety disorders, and students with other medical needs. We currently have a student whose kidneys are not doing so great, and she can’t be around other students who might put her at risk of infection. The virtual option gives us the opportunity to serve students like her who need a virtual option not just because of COVID. It’s an approach that, in my opinion, has turned into something bigger and better.

Multiple Pathways to Success

We’ve always known there is no one-size-fits-all for any kind of education. Ultimately, providing multiple opportunities for students to be successful helps more students succeed in the long run. Our students at RRCA have been academically successful throughout the pandemic, and our failure rates were not high like they were in other places because students were already so used to the online-only scenario.

That singular focus on trying to do the right things for kids has also helped us cope with the outside chaos and political pressures relating to masks and vaccines. Every day, we make sure that everyone gets the education they deserve. For me and my staff, the kids are what keep us coming to school and working in this profession.

And I do have to add that my educators are phenomenal. We are not like traditional schools where our teachers teach the same subject all day long. When you ask them what they are doing, they say everything. I really don’t know how to celebrate all of them and the amazing things they continue to do for kids, throughout all of this change. They are the reason our school is so successful.

Help Is a Call Away

I also have benefitted in ways both personal and professional by actively participating in NASSP and the state association, New Mexico Association of Secondary School Principals. I’ve been in education for almost 20 years, including four years at RRCA. Now, to become part of the NASSP Board of Directors is just amazing. It’s been a joy to serve on the board and ensure we’re moving in a positive direction.

When I have a question or need advice, I can call other board members to learn what they and their states have done during the pandemic. Back in April of 2021, when I was worried about starting a virtual school at RRCA, I called all the right people on the board who shared ideas that strengthened my own.

School leaders elsewhere have also looked to our school as a model to emulate in their districts. We’ve held tours and trainings for visitors, and we get lots of phone calls. I’m thrilled to share what we’ve learned, and it all comes down to this: giving every child a great education requires that we give them options to learn in the way they learn best.

Principals and students believe there are some benefits to pandemic practices that help meet students’ unique needs according to a national school survey from NASSP.

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