Virtual Connections Academy (VCA) is an answer to the growing need for services for children identified with school anxiety, being medically fragile, or experience social difficulties which preclude them from inclusion into public education. These students may be identified with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Learning Disability, Emotional Disturbance, Other Health Impairment, Developmental Disabilities, and Traumatic Brain Injury. Students appropriate for this program are usually at risk for a more restrictive placement. A sister school to Connection’s Day School, South Campus, and New Connections Academy, VCA serves boys and girls ages 6 to 21 placed by local school districts. VCA provides school, family and community partnerships leading to successful online learning.
Classes are small (averaging 5 students). All staff meets or exceeds Illinois certification requirements. VCA offers a standard curriculum of Reading, Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, and Physical Education in a blended digital learning environment and classroom environment. A variety of classes are available to meet individual student needs as called for on the Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) as well as graduation requirements. Each student has an IEP developed by the placing district.
A great deal of extra assistance is provided to help the students make progress in the general curriculum including creating instruction through video lectures and other technology based forums that can be watched repeatedly as needed by each student. Teachers and students interact through discussion boards, team discussion boards for collaborative work, and via individual forums. All communication is fully disclosed to the teacher to facilitate further discussion or conflict resolution whenever necessary. The student’s age, developmental level and living situation are carefully assessed to determine that there is a proper level of supervision during traditional school attendance hours to maintain compliance with Illinois School Code requirements for remote educational programs.
Due to the nature of the students’ needs, a full continuum of related services is available including Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Art Therapy, Music Therapy, Psychiatric and Psychological Consultation, School Health Services, and Post-Secondary Transition Services. VCA aims to provide these services via digital forums, in-home forums, or after school hours for VCA students at the address above. As students become more successful within the VCA environment and it is determined by the IEP team the student is prepared to initiate some involvement into a brick and mortar school setting, the VCA students have access to transition into our sister schools and the Connections Café- a setting to practice new skills in a protected vocational setting. The overriding goal of VCA is to help a student progress from chronic non-attendance to participation in a brick and mortar public or private school. The relationships built between the teacher, therapist, student, and family will help promote in-building participation to have meetings after schools hours if necessary to initiate blended services. Eventually, the teacher will invite the student to video conference into the building classrooms to possibly build student relationships. Once the student is ready to attend the brick and mortar setting, transportation can be arranged immediately to take advantage of the student’s motivation.
Upon enrollment, VCA staff assesses the student’s functioning in academic, personal and interpersonal skills and provides programming that is developmentally appropriate in collaboration with the parents. VCA staff then continues to assess progress on each student’s IEP goals through a variety of methods including progress monitoring through our goal tracking system, Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessments, curriculum based measurements, and teacher and therapist observations. Data are also collected through our behavior management system, types of contact time (progression from virtual or face to face), and shared with the IEP team on a more regular basis (every 3 months at minimum) than annually. Progress reports are sent to parents on a quarterly basis or upon request.
Each student has an individual therapist who sees the student once or twice per week (as delineated on the IEP) and more often if needed. This therapist is also the primary liaison to the family. Students are assigned to appropriate group therapies based on the recommendation of their therapist and their school district. Family therapy is an integral part of this program to ensure the partnership between home and school. Therapy goals will be monitored and progress reports will be sent to parents or districts on a quarterly basis or more frequently upon request.
The Behavior Management consists of NCA’s model of the Circle of Courage. There is a behavior management point system, which provides students with clear, concrete, immediate feedback. Various privileges and rewards are contingent on the student’s achievement on the behavior management system. The goal is to use the behavior management systems as a transitory tool towards internalization of new behaviors and skills. The combination of a concrete behavior management system, a challenging curriculum, and the nurturing therapeutic environment enables the students to make educational progress and become ready to move to less restrictive settings.
All materials and equipment needed for student enrollment and participation in VCA would be provided by VCA including a student laptop, Internet hot spot as needed, and access to the learning management system/ classroom platform. VCA and the IEP team carefully addresses individual student needs to provide the technical and human support needed to be successful.
The office hours of the teachers and therapists vary based on the classes. If the student is involved in a blended day program between the digital environment and the brick and mortar environment, transportation is provided by the school districts and students will be met at the vehicles by staff members and escorted back to the vehicles at dismissal times.
Referrals can be made directly to Tanya Guild, principal: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tuition is paid by the local public school district according to the rate set by the Illinois Purchased Care Review Board.