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Coachella Valley school districts explain virtual learning options offered pre-pandemic, why more families might opt for them now

All three of our local school districts will begin the upcoming school year with distance learning from home. What some might not know, however, is that all three districts have had an independent study or homeschool option in place well before the pandemic hit. 

Our local school districts have offered these ‘virtual learning’ options for years, for a variety of reasons. 

“We’ve always had an alternative because not every child learns the same,” said Laura Fisher, assistant superintendent of student support services, DSUSD. 

Although now, with the uncertainty and health risks of in-person schooling, our districts say more families might choose programs like these altogether. 

“Some people will now realize that is an option for them...and so they may take advantage of that,” said Anne Kalisek, executive director of student support services, PSUSD. 

Each district has their own unique model. Desert Sands Unified School District has a parent-led homeschooling option for K-8th grade students and then an independent study “hybrid” high school option called Horizon. 

“The kids come in once a week, meet with their teachers, get their assignments and work independently,” explained Fisher. 

Horizon is an option that worked well for recent graduates Essence and Aaraya Vizl who spoke with News Channel 3 about their experience. 

“I’ve already recommended Horizon to so many of my friends. I know some of them say they have difficulties with anything from friends to homework...to just the stress of school,” said Essence. 

The twin sisters say Horizon’s independent study-from-home option not only taught them time management skills but also offered them unique opportunities they wouldn’t have had in a traditional high school setting. 

“I think Horizon has been one of the best choices of my life,” said Aaraya. “You don’t have to plan your time around your school, you can plan your school around your time.” 

Over at Palm Springs Unified School District, they have a similar option called Desert Learning Academy for grades 3-12. 

“I think what makes Desert Learning Academy unique is it’s one of our district schools. It’s run by a principle we have counseling services there...it is a good option for families,” said Kalisek.

And for Coachella Valley Unified School District families, they too offer a Kindergarten through 12th grade independent study option, and then a high school virtual academy program. 

In all three districts, in many cases students enrolled in these programs can still take part in school clubs and sports. 

“It’s a good option. It has been before and will probably continue to be for many families now,” said Fisher.

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Madison Weil

Madison Weil joined the KESQ News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2 News Team in June 2018. Learn more about Madison here.

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