YAKIMA, Wash. - Nathaniel Amezola-Hernandez has been going to the Washington Virtual Academy since first grade. His caregivers said he has made great progress in learning ever since he switched from a traditional classroom to the online public school.
The 8-year-old autistic boy suffers from severe social anxiety, ADHD and has difficulties communicating, but the online school offers him the autonomy he needs to be successful.
The virtual school is entirely tailored to his needs, and offers one-on-one interactions with state-certified teachers. The coursework matches his speed, and allows for manageable social interactions with his online classmates. The school's flexibility also allows him to go to his frequent speech and occupational therapy sessions.
Nathaniel's grandmother, Selene Hernandez, watches over him and helps guide him through his lessons each day. She said he performs much better now that he can work from home.
"I started noticing he was more focused, he was finishing his homework," said Hernandez. "I mean just being able to say, 'Grandma, I need to run.' You know, I let him run, he comes back, he's refreshed and we keep going."
The Washington Virtual Academy is a tuition-free online public school that uses the K12 curriculum, which is accessed via an online school as well as through more traditional methods. Materials are delivered to the family's home.
Hernandez said Nathaniel gets overwhelmed by noise and has difficulty communicating, which is why he struggled to do well in a traditional classroom.
"I was kind of like desperate to find something that would help Nathaniel," said Hernandez.
Hernandez said she thought the transition would be difficult, but the school offers many resources and a great deal of support.
"You don't feel alone. You feel like there's that support right there by the teachers helping us through the lessons, and when we feel like we need to take a break, we go and walk."
She said he recently took a test and his teacher told them that he was at a second grade reading level.
"I was like, yes! He's getting there. So I was excited," said Hernandez.
She said they get him out to socialize with other kids as much as possible. She takes him to a home school physical education class at the YMCA twice per week, where he gets to socialize with other students his age.
She said he is learning the same as any other third grader would, only now he has the autonomy to do things at his own pace.
Hernandez said she's glad the online academy offers him opportunities he wouldn't otherwise get at a traditional school. She said he will likely continue with the online program until his high school graduation.
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