ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — An online public school in Arkansas has a 50% increase in enrollment for the 2020-2021 school year.

However, there is no data to support the uptick is a result of COVID-19 because families are not asked if they’re enrolling due to the pandemic. 

In the fall, 2,400 students are expected to be enrolled at Arkansas Connections Academy (ARCA). It’s a tuition-free, K-12, online, public school and all teachers are certified in Arkansas. ARCA is accredited by the Southern Association of College & Schools Council on Accreditations and School Improvement (SACS CASI).

The school year begins August 24, 2020, and ends June 4, 2021. There are 100 staff members, compared to 11 when ARCA opened in 2016.

“There has been a difference, huge growth, and families know there is a virtual option,” said ARCA Master Teacher Melissa Curiel.

This is Curiel’s fifth year teaching at ARCA and she has taught in a brick-mortar setting in the past. Of the two styles of schools, she appreciates virtual teaching because it offers one-on-one time with students.

“It’s the relationship with students. I’m able to have a conversation,” said Curiel who has 147 students. “They [students] need somebody who talks with them, and this is something I didn’t have with brick and mortar.”

As a virtual school there is a lot of individual time with students. “Even students on Individualized Education Program (IEP) we work with them on a web cam,” said Curiel. “They are offered all the same services.”

Books, science labs, materials are provided by the school, and parents provide technology. If there is a financial challenge in paying for the internet, or computer(s), parents may apply for programs, or a stipend, to help offset costs.

COVID-19 has impacted some of the teachers because of childcare. But it’s manageable. There isn’t a problem in getting classes covered, and only during maternity leave is a substitute brought in to teach, according to Curiel.

As Curiel prepares for the start of the school year she hopes for positive attitudes and a balance between work and school. “The attitude parents show is what the kids will have.”