By Mckenzie Moore

Staff Writer

Vision Charter Academy (VCA) partners with local small businesses to provide elective opportunities for students in a variety of fields and activities, giving the businesses a steady source of revenue and the students valuable experience — a structure that worked especially well on both ends when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The partnerships involve the school using its public funding to pay for lessons or participation in an activity with a local business, and students use their participation as an elective credit for school. Activities range from art and music lessons to sports and driver’s education.

“Kids have the ability to explore their curiosities,” said Vision Charter Academy Executive Director Wilyn Webb. “When they find that thing they’re really into, they can stick with it. We graduate black belts in karate and violinists in the symphony, and we also graduate kids who have tried everything under the sun.”

Partnership opportunities in the North Fork Valley for VCA students have included Brymstone Pottery, North Fork Ballet, 4 Leg Adventures, Learning Yes, North Fork Riding School, David Hauze, Embodying Rhythm, Kim Johnson Music Studio, Snider Sound Studio, the Blue Sage Center for the Arts, North Fork Karate, Xodus Adventures, the Creamery Arts Center, Paonia Tae Kwon Do and Tunget Gymnastics.

“Partnering with community business vendors to give our learners a wide variety of experiences is so rewarding to both our learners and the businesses. It supports our local businesses while allowing our learners to find their passion, build skills in an individually chosen elective or just explore a possibility,” said VCA Assistant Director Caryn Braddy. “We are grateful that so many local business vendors partner with us to provide these amazing and diverse opportunities.”

Webb said that through the pandemic, the partnerships allowed businesses and students to have a mutually beneficial relationship: businesses had a source of steady income, and students had an opportunity to continue their electives in a virtual format.

“These are public funds we get to roll over into the local economy… It would’ve added some stability, as we had already budgeted for it and could continue paying,” Webb said. “And because these businesses figured out how to go virtual, it helped those kids still get to participate and bring other people into their lives that they were used to seeing on a weekly or daily basis. It kept something positive in their life still going.”

This fiscal year, VCA put $197,981 into local businesses through the partnership. The year before that, it put $207,000 into the community, and $190,000 prior to that.

“I hope so much [the partnerships] can help keep these local businesses viable, so they can thrive for them, and also our kids will keep getting to have this beautiful variety of choices for their electives,” Webb said. “There’s a diversity of opportunities there, and we want that to always be in place and growing. The more we can offer our kids for choices, the better.”

Braddy agreed that the number of choices students have had has allowed them to learn unique skills, but also gives them the chance to learn life and social skills as well.

“The skills the learners build while participating in these opportunities exceed the activity itself,” Braddy said. “They learn how to make decisions about what is most important to them as they are presented with multiple activity choices, but limited time requires them to make and advocate for the one or two that they really want. Learning to choose and advocate for yourself is a valuable life skill everyone needs.”

As VCA prepares for the upcoming academic year, including offering students the elective paths through business partnerships, Webb said she hopes the school will continue to be a vital part of the community’s economy.

“We value this community and want to do everything we can to support it,” Webb said. “What’s good for the small businesses is good for Vision, and it’s a pleasure to live in a community where we can create these partnerships.”

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