A new virtual academy has launched in Alberta and is offering special education for Grade 7 and 8 students in Airdrie that addresses their individual needs and differences in a non-traditional learning environment.
According to John Wolf, principal of Rundle Studio, the online school is based off of the brick-and-mortar school Rundle Academy, located in Calgary. Wolf said Rundle Academy specializes in providing personalized education for students with diagnosed learning disabilities.
He said when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, they were able to trial some of their programming in a virtual format to discover what worked well and what needed improvement before launching Rundle Studio.
“We have been using online education for a while, but when COVID hit, we really were able to try this specific method and it worked really well for some students,” Wolf said. “That’s kind of what we wanted to provide for students – this level of education [and] this level of accommodation in an online setting, and we found it worked quite well for a particular group of students.”
He added the private, in-person day school currently has a wait list and is at its maximum capacity for enrolment. In order to accommodate the demand, Rundle Studio aims to provide the same level of education to students this fall in a virtual format.
“Our program is accessible by anyone, anywhere within Alberta,” he said. “Airdrie just makes sense because it is a little bit further for students to come in if they want to attend Rundle Academy.
“Having it online really allows accessibility for students anywhere and there’s the option during certain times for monthly meet-ups, orientations, and field trips. If they were in Airdrie, it would be easy for them to get there and participate in those events in person.”
Wolf added he is not aware of any Airdrie students currently attending Rundle Academy, but the virtual Rundle Studio is open to all Albertans who meet the program's eligibility requirements. All students attending Rundle must be diagnosed with a learning disability, including but not limited to ADHD, and autism spectrum disorder.
“We provide the accommodations that students really need to succeed,” Wolf said. “We know that our students are all average to above-average intelligence and they need the accommodation to allow them to flourish.”
He added the virtual school will include morning check-ins, virtual recesses, and student interaction in a unique method of delivery.
“There are specific benefits for some students,” he said. “This isn’t for all students necessarily, but some students can really benefit from this type of education because they might feel more at ease, and they might be comfortable in their own homes, where they can focus solely on their academics and not have to worry about some of those outside factors that influence them in-person.”
Without these accommodations, Wolf said some students may struggle with shyness, anxiety, and mobility issues that can add to their cognitive load.
“The online allows them more of a level playing field and they [have] found success in that area – COVID highlighted this,” he said.