School choice advocate Erika Donalds-led Optima Domi announced it is launching the world’s first virtual reality charter school.
The organization plans to launch Optima Classical Academy for the 2022-23 school year, enrolling 1,300 students from grades 3- 8 for its inaugural classes in August. The academy intends to expand classes up to 10th grade for the 2023-24 school year.
“Classical education empowers rich knowledge that naturally fosters a love for learning and thinking. It is a learning pathway that we are proud to utilize,” Donalds said. “Bridging the gap between advancing technology and our well-established curriculum, students can experience an immersive, collaborative, and social experience with their instructor and peers unlike any other virtual school available.”
A spokesperson for the project told Florida Politics enrollment in the first year will be limited to Florida residents, but the school hopes to expand its reach in future years.
Donalds is no stranger to the political and education world in Florida. A former Collier County School Board member, she previously helped launch the Parents ROCK charter school in Naples and founded the Florida Coalition of School Board Members and later the School Choice Movement. She’s married to U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds, who had advocated for charter schools at the federal level and previously at the state level when he served in the Florida Legislature.
Now president and CEO of the Optima Foundation, Erika Donalds indicated the pandemic and the difficult transition many parents had to make to remote learning fueled interest in charter schools. The available technology also has opened possibilities. The lowered price points on virtual reality headsets have expanded access to the technology as well.
Demonstration videos on the Optima Domi website show interactive learning environments that employ virtual reality technology to generate classroom environments, field trips into the ocean or to Mars, and access to digital presentation materials. One such video shows a virtual instructor discussing covalent bonds beside a floating chemical model.
The plan is for students to attend live virtual reality sessions three hours a day, four days a week, and then to experience the rest of the curriculum online, through projects or other traditional education means such as textbooks.
“Many parents felt frustrated with the transition to at-home learning at the beginning of the pandemic, unable to keep up with the responsibilities of their children’s curriculum … Children were frustrated with sitting in front of a lagging computer screen all day long. The beauty of Optima Classical Academy is having your child safe at home for most of the day with all the necessary resources for them to learn independently,” said Adam Mangana, executive director of Optima Domi.
“Our students are transported from their homes into a virtual classroom environment like no other, and for many, this cutting-edge learning experience is much more beneficial than Zoom or other standard virtual options.”
Further details about the school will become available at a virtual reality press conference on Jan. 6.