Virtual Learning

Fifth-graders study at Sherwood Elementary School in Salinas on May 18. A virtual academy launching this fall is accepting student applications through May 28.

Amid the backlash that online and hybrid instruction has received over the past pandemic year – lower grades, little social interaction and technological glitches – the Salinas City Elementary School District plans to launch a virtual academy for grades K-6 for the 2021-2022 school year.

The rush to virtual learning brought about by the pandemic forced teachers and administrators to figure out how to help students navigate distance learning and provide instruction.

After a year, “We’ve seen what has worked and what hasn’t worked for our families,” says Erika Tumminelli, the vice principal at Sherwood Elementary School, who will become principal of the Salinas City Virtual Academy. Despite skepticism around virtual instruction, “we’ve learned some students really do thrive with online learning,” Tumminelli says.

The school will be 100-percent online and is based on three principles: innovation, individualized learning and inclusion. Initially, classes will be English immersion only but the district could offer dual immersion – English-Spanish – in the future. While instruction won’t be too different from a regular class, it will be designed to give students more room to work independently, use their strengths and develop their interests. Students who are struggling will receive one-on-one instruction.

The district has worked on the virtual academy since last December, when surveys showed families were interested. They met with Pajaro Valley Unified School District, which has a K-12 virtual academy, and other districts across the state and analyzed their models.

Alyssa Burns, a first-grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary, has seen some of her students blossom in online learning. Her students used different applications such as Seesaw, an engagement platform where teachers can track students’ progress in real time, where students recorded themselves reading a book or doing presentations. “Students were able to interact with the content in multiple ways, in different formats, as opposed to just the traditional books in front of them,” she says.

You make our work happen.

The article you’re about to read is from our reporters doing their important work — investigating, researching, and writing their stories.

We want to provide informative and inspirational stories that connect you to the people, issues and opportunities within our community.

Journalism takes a lot of resources. Today, our business model has been interrupted by the pandemic; the vast majority of our advertisers’ businesses have been impacted. That’s why the Weekly is now turning to you for financial support. Learn more about our new Insider’s program here.

Thank you.


Burns is now teaching the same group of students as last year. One of them was struggling with naming and pronouncing letters, but during distance learning, Burns was able to work with smaller groups and that student is now reading. “For him to make up a whole year’s worth of phonetic skills and reading in about seven or eight months is a big success,” she says.

Online school benefits families who need flexibility because of work or planning a vacation. Kids will be able to show to class as long as they have a computer and internet access.

One of the main worries among parents, educators and students at different districts over the past year has been the lack of interaction among students and development of social and emotional skills.

The virtual academy will offer field trips and online extracurricular activities where students can interact, such as art, Spanish or music. “This is something we’re hoping really takes off; it is a long-term school,” Tumminelli says.

The virtual academy will start with two classrooms per grade, kindergarten through sixth grade, with an average of 24 students. It is open to all Monterey County residents.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.