Despite pandemic battles, the Cincinnati Digital Academy could become a bigger part of the future of CPS

The COVID-19 pandemic caused complete shifts in many of our daily class schedules, including students at Cincinnati Public Schools. Many students moved to the Cincinnati Digital Academy as a result, and now the district wants to make school a bigger part of their future.

Eight years ago, the Cincinnati Digital Academy was founded to allow students to structure their classes and work in an environment that is convenient for them, mostly children who were home-schooled, faced with health problems, or because traditional classrooms didn’t work for them. Last March, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine ordered schools to close to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Students then switched to distance learning at Cincinnati Public Schools for the remainder of the spring. For the fall semester, CDA was the only remote option for many students.

Denianne Gardner is the parent of a fifth grader at Dater Montessori. When her child moved to the academy, she said that the influx of students she transferred was very overwhelming.

“Before they had 300 students and 10 teachers, but when we signed up it was up to 1,500 students,” said Gardner.

She says the transition wasn’t necessarily difficult for her child to learn, but the lack of other students was a challenge.

“It’s a very lonely experience,” said Gardner. “It’s okay to make Zoom calls regularly, but they’re really more annoying than anything because you don’t really connect with the other kids. It’s just this comedy of mistakes that a kid’s Zoom call has is. “

Parents had similar experiences to Gardner’s during the pandemic, but other parents in the district had taken advantage of CDA long before COVID-19. Jamie Ferguson’s children have been attending the online school for years. He says the nontraditional structure works for them and is mostly able to get the job done at their own pace. However, he says the school is not intended for every child and does not recommend that children attend CDA during most of their elementary school years.

“If you walk in there as a parent of a traditional standard school and think, ‘Oh, it’ll work, plug my kid into a computer and let them do that,’ it isn’t necessarily going to work that way,” Ferguson said.

Gardner noted that while the content provided by the school is appropriate, it is not always engaging. She also noticed that some of the content appears to be very out of date.

“When you watch the social studies videos, they look like a VHS that was converted by a Discovery Channel from the 1980s,” Gardner said. “They’re not all like that, but they’re very old-fashioned. I could swear I saw some of these when I was in school.”

Despite some drawbacks, she noticed the benefits of going to school, especially the flexibility in getting things done. She says working with her daughter has been beneficial for both of them because she has learned as much as her child.

“When your child watches you go through the learning process, it’s valuable in that you have to go back and find something you don’t understand and you fail and try again,” Gardner said. “You are not that omniscient person who knows everything and it is only valuable when your child sees that part of you.”

The district is keen to invest more in CDA in the future. Some investments have already started, notably staff increases to cope with the massive influx of students. Monisha House is the district director of the school administration. She says CPS wants to improve some academic structures, including adding more courses. It could also give CPS students access to classes that may not be at their respective school.

“The future is hard to predict because I wouldn’t have predicted where we are now, but I can say that if we redefine our future, our future will be new,” said House.

Despite declining enrollments across the district, CDA is expected to have at least four times enrollments over the next year compared to October 2019.

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