VLA embracing ‘new style of education’

Staff Writer
Brownwood Bulletin
Victory Life Academy students and faculty, pictured prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, are embracing a “new style of education,” according to principal Debbie Hagood. [Photo courtesy of VLA website]

In light of COVID-19, Victory Life Academy is combining education and technology with faith and relationships to cope with current conditions to complete the school year.

Principal Debbie Hagood said parents and guardians are conveying that their students are not expressing fear or anxiety. “The families are adhering to the requests of government officials and are grateful the Psalm 91 Scriptures were taught early in the school year.”

Nationwide, the absence of the traditional classroom has forced other formats, including online learning. Hagood said VLA students and parents have adjusted well to the virtual teaching. “Seeing the teachers and classmates online is beneficial for maintaining a sense of community, for engaging learners academically, and for maintaining a sense of normalcy. Families share they are grateful the students are avoiding boredom and are continuing to progress through the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) via the online classrooms that meet on a similar schedule to that of physically being in classrooms.”

Class size also plays a part in the equation, Hagood said. “Because we are a small campus, faculty and families are in a unique situation to enjoy close-knit relationships. Teachers are acutely aware of student strengths and are able to continue to bond with each other on a deep level.”

Trust is a part of the school’s DNA. “God’s Word tells us that He uses all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. We are all learning to trust in the promises of Scripture in a way that often occurs when facing difficult times,” Hagood said. Prayer has always been part of the daily routine. “Students and staff start each day in prayer for their families, community and the nation along with the global population.”

Hagood said the teachers have put forth an amazing effort during this time. “The Victory Life Academy faculty and staff are committed to ensuring that socio-emotional, spiritual and academic excellence standards are maintained in the internet environment. They teach all classes and are available to visit with parents of students at any time through online meetings, text messages and phone calls.”

Adjustments have been necessary to adapt to online education. “Of course, it is a challenge to teach in an online environment,” Hagood said. “However, the faculty quickly trained to utilize Zoom classroom technology the first week of the ‘stay-at-home’ orders. Teachers also set up classroom environments in their homes so that white boards and other needed teaching supplies are available for lessons. The method for turning in completed assignments is determined by the families of elementary students. They may drop off assignments at the school or leave them on their doorsteps for teachers to collect. Middle and high school students email their assignments to the teachers.”

As an administrator, Hagood said she was already “keenly aware” of the commitment and professionalism of the VLA staff. “They each seek to provide excellence in instruction with the goal of educating learners ‘as if unto the Lord.’ VLA teachers utilize their collegiate degrees and in-service training sessions to provide excellence off-campus at levels provided while on the school site.”

Hagood explained how this is beneficial. “Students are able to continue progression through the curriculum and to master objectives due to the dedication and determination of teachers along with the support of parents and guardians. Additionally, teachers quickly figured out that one-on-one tutoring is a benefit offered online after school hours. It is not uncommon for faculty members to work late into the evening to provide homework help and additional instruction when needed.”

Not being physically together has been one of the more difficult aspects, Hagood said. “Staff and students miss the ability to give hugs and high-fives in person. However, the greatest blessings of being educators are experiencing the joys of sharing knowledge and those of providing opportunities for students to become confident learners. These components of the education system are maintained while VLA students continue to gain skills in understanding God’s world, in developing oral and written communication skills and in becoming proficient in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) concepts via online classroom experiences.”

Hagood said there has been many learning lessons since COVID-19 caused a change in daily routines. “Students and staff learned to utilize online classroom technology, to become more self-motivated pupils and all learned to lean on God at greater levels. The resiliency and tenacity of students and staff to quickly embrace a new style of education confirms that VLA families and faculty are committed to the success of our student body.”

With a crash course for students and teachers in online coursework, Hagood said she has a unique perspective, having earned a master’s degree via the online program at the University of Texas-Arlington. “My perception is that the off-campus learning environment is providing experiences to better prepare VLA students for success as 21st century learners and workforce leaders. University students and career employees often meet online and must participate in staff trainings, group planning sessions, reflection of projects and elaboration processes for individual and group successes.”

Hagood reiterated that an online format provides preparation for the future. “The VLA administration enrolled middle and high school students in a few online classes this year with a goal of preparing them for future learning environments. Having experience in online meetings and educational instruction is helpful for gaining proficiencies that will be advantageous throughout the education and career paths of our student population.”

COVID-19 has not only changed the classroom dynamic, but forced the cancellation of athletics, extra-curriculars and other big events. Several schools nationwide have either completely called off graduation and prom, while others are looking into ways to create digitally viable events. Hagood said that for VLA, end-of-year celebration events will be held when the situation changes.