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Vision Charter Academy is another option for North Fork students

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Delta County School District J50 enrollment officially opened Monday and proactive parents are making important decisions about their children's education. One option available to families in the North Fork area is the Vision Charter Academy.

VCA is a tuition-free public charter school authorized by the district to provide services and support for families of K-12 learners whose primary mentors are their parents. VCA operates campuses in Delta, Cedaredge and Paonia. "Some think Vision has decreased in the North Fork Valley, but not so," says VCS executive director Willyn Webb. "We're still here, going strong, and expanding this year."

Today VCA's staff of about 65 offers services to some 450 learners and their families from throughout Delta County and Montrose. "We have a larger enrollment (numbers) than people realize," said Webb. "We're the best kept secret around."

The vision program opened its first campus in the North Fork area in 2000 with 130 learners. In 2013, VCA was granted the first charter within the district. It's gone through several changes since it first began, said Webb, but its mission of providing choice and diversity within the public education system remains unchanged.

Last spring VCA's charter was renewed for four years. "We have a great relationship with the district," said Webb. "They support choices in education."

VCA operates under the district umbrella, but the program largely functions independently. "It's a unique model," and one that people are looking at closely because it gives parents a lot of voice in their child's education, said Webb, who was at Delta Opportunity School for 11 years before moving to VCA in July, 2016.

VCA offers three learning paths: a highly-qualified coordinator (HQC)-supported path where the primary mentor, often the parent, implements the daily course work outlined in an Individual Learning Plan (ILP) developed, supported, resourced and overseen by VCA; a teacher-supported path where students receive the majority of their direct instruction on campus, with about 8 hours of instruction per week taking place at home in collaboration with the family; and a blended path that encompasses both of these options.

While the Delta and Cedaredge campuses offer daily classes, the North Fork area is currently all HQC supported, with learners receiving direction in the home. After receiving the charter, a lot of changes happened and the North Fork enrollment no longer supported those daily classes said Webb. While their goal is to bring those classes back, North Fork learners are welcome to attend classes at other Vision campuses.

The Paonia campus is a bustling learning center, offering a resource library, access to other schools, and exploration classes, short specialized courses designed to peak interest in a variety of subjects. Learners are also offered access to a dynamic learning lab, field trips, clubs and activities.

Vision ILPs offer up to seven classes per year. North Fork learners can take them through a variety of resources including at home, at Technical College of the Rockies (formerly Delta-Montrose Technical College), online, in the campus classroom, at other Delta County schools, through a college, or a blend of those.

In Vision, parents are a big part of their child's education, said Webb. They, the learner and the HQC partner create an ILP to guide them through the year. This gives parents a voice and choice in their child's education while still utilizing public funding, said Webb. It's the best of both worlds. "Parents can still be creative with their child's education, yet there's the ability to send them to school."

Parents are also required to attend an information session to ensure they know what they're getting into, said Webb.

Vision also partners with community businesses to offer other class choices, such as dance, gymnastics, karate, music and pottery. These vendors must complete a rigorous process to qualify for participation. The partnership allows learners "to really maximize their gifts and talents" through classes not available in a traditional school, said Webb. Vision learners have won karate competitions, are accomplished musicians, and last year a Vision student won the county spelling bee.

This year Vision plans to establish a Lego robotics club and others, designed by learners. Choices are listed in Vision's Menu of Opportunities and Resources for Education (MORE) catalog available on the VCA website, www.visioncharteracademy.org.

Through partnership with organizations like The Nature Connection, Vision's exploration program offers unique classes and field trips including cross country skiing and geography and astronomy field trips. "It's all about learning and creativity," said Webb.

While it's unique, the program is also subject to all state standards and testing. "The Vision program is rigorous and has accountability," said Webb.

Under its contract with the district, Vision is creating local standardized assessment tests to provide another data point for showing growth and helping to drive learning plans, and to not be completely reliant on state tests as measurements, said Webb.

Vision will hold three registration carnivals in August: from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 15, at the Delta campus, Aug. 16 at Surface Creek, and from 10 a.m. to noon Thursday, Aug. 17 at the Paonia campus. Fairs will include activities, food and more. VCA's business vendors, along with numerous organizations in the area that support children and families have all been invited to sponsor a booth. Learners will also be able to have their photos taken, test their vision and hearing, and meet with their HQC.

For enrollment information or to apply, visioncharteracademy.org. Those wanting more information can contact VCA at 970-250-8636.

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