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Photo: Erik Chalhoub
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Teachers say a growing program through the Gilroy Unified School District is reaching students who learn more effectively outside of the traditional classroom setting.

Called the Virtual Learning Academy, the program, wrapping up its first year, offers online instruction through learning provider Edmentum.

Students from kindergarten through 12th grade can access courses at any time from an internet-connected device, working at their own pace in core curriculum such as math, science and English.

They also work with GUSD teachers, who offer support through office hours and other appointments to keep students on track.

The Virtual Learning Academy differs from the distance learning format, which most students in the district have been a part of since schools closed due to Covid-19 more than a year ago.

Deborah Padilla, GUSD’s director of curriculum and instruction for secondary school, said the academy is an independent program, where students work at their own pace. In distance learning, classes are held over Zoom and follow a traditional schedule, where students access different classes with different teachers.

Padilla said the program gives Gilroy families the flexibility of home school with the support of certificated teachers.

“Parents enjoy the flexibility of the program and the robust curriculum that focuses on problem-based learning,” she said. “They also appreciate working individually with the instructors on their specific needs.”

Longtime GUSD teacher Valerie Kelly is part of the program, saying that she is seeing students shine thanks to the one-on-one support it offers.

“It’s an incredibly strong curriculum presented in a very accessible way,” she said. “We’ve had some incredible success. Students have grown so much across the board in English, history, math and science. They have really blossomed in the program.”

Teacher Jackie Stevens agreed, saying that she is able to spend time one-on-one with her students to give feedback and monitor their progress.

“We’ve gotten very positive feedback from students,” she said. “They love that it is self-paced. They love the flexibility.”

The district is currently enrolling students into the program for the 2021-22 school year, with more than 140 students so far in the Virtual Learning Academy.

In order to be enrolled in the program, students must be eligible to register at any school in the district.

A virtual information night is scheduled for May 18 for grades 6-12. For information, visit

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Erik Chalhoub joined Weeklys as an editor in 2019. Prior to his current position, Chalhoub worked at The Pajaronian in Watsonville for seven years, serving as managing editor from 2014-2019.


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