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Virtual Public School Sees Spike In Interest And Growing Wait List

BOSTON (CBS) - Even before the pandemic, hundreds of Massachusetts students attended public school virtually. Now, one of those schools is working with districts in the state to pass on its best practices.

TEC Connections Academy (TECCA) is one of two virtual public schools in the Commonwealth. The independent public school district opened its doors in 2014, one year after Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill "giving preference to virtual schools that reach out to a special group of students."

"We have a very diverse student population. We have students that are athletes, on Broadway, we also have students with social and emotional anxieties," said TECCA Superintendent Patrick Lattuca. "We started with 400 students. And each year our enrollment has increased. Right now we have 2,300 students and we just graduated 260."

As districts try to fine tune remote learning, and the coronavirus crisis complicates the re-opening of schools, interest for this virtual school is at an all-time high. Lattuca says if they resume learning September 1, there will be a wait-list of 1,500 students.

"I like that it gives you the chance to be flexible. I can travel between places and take my schooling with me," said Addyson Mayo, a rising 8th grader.

This coming fall will mark Addyson's third year at TECCA. She does admit she misses out on in-person social interactions. But her parents say they work hard at looking for opportunities to connect with classmates. And that returning to an in-person setting is always up for discussion.

"It's very similar to a higher-education make up, and how we approach virtual learning. [There are] discussion boards and video chats, emails and constant communication has been key," said Christopher Mayo, Addyson's dad and an educator at North Shore Community College. "I've seen a huge difference in her ability to learn and develop and actually absorb the material."

Based out of East Walpole, TECCA is a fully accredited K-12 online school. Instruction is a mix of live lessons and self-guided work. The school is in the process of exploring sports programs and offers students field trips and social clubs.

Since it's public, it's tuition free. Textbooks, instructional materials, a computer and even subsidies for internet access are provided by the school.

Lattuca is now in the process of asking state officials to increase the school's enrollment. He's also advising educators from across the Commonwealth who are looking to him to pass on lessons learned.

"They have to think about first of all, what is their infrastructure? Do they have a one to one device initiative? Meaning a computer for every student," Lattuca said. "What's the type of platform? The learning management system, or the educational system they're going to be using. A lot of people use Zoom. Then they also have to think about, and balance out, how much synchronous or asynchronous learning do they want."

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