Onslow County Schools has received a grant that will provide a new flexibility in learning for military-connected students, as well as other students in the school district.

A five-year $1.5 million grant from the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) Partnership will enable the school district to implement a virtual academy that will provide participating students with an online option to the courses they would traditionally take in the classroom.

Because students are not tied to the regular school schedule and work beyond the traditional classroom, the virtual option is a particular benefit to the school district’s large population of military-connected students.

Vikki Childress, director of Onslow Virtual Academy, said military dependent students can complete and receive credit for courses they start through the new virtual academy even after they have to move to another state or school system because of a parent’s transfer.

Childress said that high schools in other states, for instance, may have six credits an academic year versus the eight in North Carolina schools, which can cause students to lose credits.

“We’ll be able to work with them to complete that course and receive credit,” Childress said.

Ross Friebel, director of digital learning and teaching with Onslow County Schools, said the new grant program is an example of fitting the maximum amount of learning into a student’s schedule rather than confining learning to one schedule that may not work for all students, such as those who work or have other obligations at home.

“We’re trying to be as flexible as possible,” Friebel said.

The grant program, College & Career Ready: Opening Doors with Virtual Opportunities, will be implemented over the next five years, beginning in 2017.

Childress said that the program will start in January with 200 students in 9th through 12th grades able to participate next semester.

Students will be chosen via a lottery system like the one used for New Bridge Middle School. A date for when applications will open for that lottery will be announced soon.

While the lottery will be open to all students, military-connected students are first priority.

Next school year the program will expand to 300 students in 9th through 12th grades.

After the next school year, they will review its success and if it is working well, they plan to expand to the middle grades with a maximum of 400 students.

Childress said that participating students will be required to take a minimum of two classes online.

While the virtual academy allows flexibility in completing certain classes, students are still enrolled in the school where they reside and take other required courses and participate in extracurricular activities on campus.

Funds from the grant will also provide social/emotional support for military dependent students, and provide for virtual and face-to-face parent awareness programs focused on virtual learning and college/career readiness strategies.

“With 40 percent of our student population military connected, the generous grant will enhance the education of military students and raise student achievement for all high school students,” said OCS Superintendent Rick Stout. “We appreciate the partnership and commitment by the Department of Defense to ensure that the children of military families receive an excellent education that prepares them for successful careers.”