by Michelle Wirth
Wendy Aracich is the first virtual teacher to graduate from the Georgia Charter Schools Association’s GaTAPP program, an alternative certification program for existing teachers in Georgia’s charter schools. The certification was made possible after receiving permission from the Georgia Professional Standards Commission.
Georgia Connections Academy and Georgia Charter Schools Association convinced the Georgia Professional Standards Commission the certification could work for virtual teachers like Aracich who was initially hired after receiving a non-renewable, temporary three-year certification. Aracich was a part-time art instructor but soon was brought on full-time after requests for her class exploded and she quickly grew the school’s art program. Georgia Connections Academy Principal Heather Robinson said the GaTAPP program allowed them to keep Aracich on staff rather than losing her while she went back to school for traditional certification.
“I was tremendously excited, because I knew this would help us maintain Wendy as an employee and instructor, “ said Georgia Connections Academy Principal Heather Robinson. “She has done amazing things for our art program and also for our STEM program and STEAM certification, which we are pursuing now. It also opens the doors for other virtual teachers and shows the real instruction that’s going on at virtual schools.
Aracich performed the same requirements as other teachers enrolled in the GaTAPP program but some of the coursework had to be modified slightly to account for the differences between virtual education and those teaching in brick and mortar locations. For instance, one of the assignments focused on dealing with behavioral disruptions or fights in the classroom. The overall objective for the assignment was how to problem solve when a behavioral issue arises in the classroom, so she had to figure out what behavioral issues she deals with and explain how she handles them. Aracich said virtual students sometimes get distracted or talk off topic, so she has to find ways to get their attention.
With thought and creativity, Aracich was able to meet the standards for the program and complete assignments in a manner that was meaningful to her daily work. She also said the GaTAPP program gave her the flexibility to work full time and receive her certification.
“I’m really happy that I was allowed to stay in a job that I love and also get my certification, said Aracich. “I’m excited that as the landscape for education changes, this opportunity is opening up for more virtual teachers to potentially get certified.”
One of the challenges came during the observation portion of the program. Aracich and GaTAPP administrators decided on a blended model. Aracich was filmed during several workshops she normally conducts face-to-face with Georgia Connections Academy students. She also wanted to showcase what she does on an everyday basis so she set up a camera and filmed herself interacting on the computer with her students. GCSA Director of Education and Training Jeff Homan served as Aracich’s mentor during the program.
“I am delighted that Wendy was able to gain full certification through GaTAPP. All GaTAPP providers differentiate their programs to meet the needs of their candidates,” said Julie Beck, Director of Non-Traditional Preparation in the Educator Preparation Division of the Georgia Professional Standards Commission. “Jeff Homan designed an individualized program of study for this virtual teacher that met all our rules and requirements for certification. We applaud Georgia Charter Schools Association’s innovative thinking!”
The GaTAPP program now has a second virtual candidate. Kristen Parsons, an educator at Georgia Connections Academy, is pursuing certification in secondary social studies.
GCSA’s GaTAPP program is designated for teachers who are employed by a Georgia charter school, but are not traditionally certified in a post-secondary college or university school of education. GaTAPP is a performance-based, job-embedded teacher preparation program for teacher candidates to earn an induction and professional teaching certificate via a blended-model professional learning training that includes demonstration of proficient classroom performance, external field experiences, and support from an assigned Candidate Support Team.