Owsley County lacks industry. There’s no chain restaurant, chain grocery store, or factory. There’s not even a hospital in our county, making it impossible for a student to shadow a doctor or nurse for a day. The county’s largest employer is the school district, followed by a nursing home. Many of our students have never seen the ocean or even traveled outside of our state. Logistical barriers like these can hold our students back. The Internet is our highway to the world, and the virtual learning lab and its components are an express lane.
Owsley County School District aims to address barriers to learning and student engagement. Instead of canceling school during snow days, for example, we institute Non-Traditional Instructional (NTI) days, where students can access their lessons and other learning resources and communicate with teachers online. Through our experiences with NTI Days, we have emerged with more ideas that help us meet students where they are and support continuous learning, including establishing a virtual high school for homebound or suspended students or students who might be experiencing extenuating circumstances. Expanding on out-of-school opportunities through the virtual lab is a way to ensure students build connections through experiences outside of Kentucky.