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One Utah online school is thriving even after classrooms reopened

Posted at 12:21 PM, Nov 18, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — Debate over distance learning raged last year in Utah and around the country as COVID-19 largely shut down traditional schools. But, one online school that was already established, pre-pandemic, continues to thrive.

FOX 13's Scott McKane interviewed one successful student in particular.

Her name is Yesenia Sanchez. She’d be a junior at her old school, Hunter High, where she was an average student. But the pandemic put her on a different, distance learning path.

She’s now thriving and hoping one day, to have a job in journalism.

Sanchez had no idea how bored she was with traditional school until the pandemic changed everything.

“Remote learning has been so helpful for me, I also see a progress in my grades that I didn’t see before," said Sanchez.

She enrolled in the Utah Connections Academy.

UCA is a tuition free, accredited, online, charter school for students K-12 grade.

“A lot them just didn’t fit the traditional model," said Nate Gealta, UCA teacher.

Gealta is a former 6th grade teacher in Ogden who decided to become a UCA instructor even before the pandemic took hold.

“You do have bullying and you have classroom disruptions," said Gealta. "I mean so much of my time as a teacher was spent babysitting.”

In addition to academics, Gealta says he and the other teachers focus on the emotional well-being and social development of students, working closely with them and their families remotely.

“You’re able to connect with not just the student but the whole family," added Gealta. "Because in the middle of the virtual lesson there’s dogs running through the background, and I’ve met grandparents and uncles and aunts and sisters and all sorts of crazy things.”

He says Yesenia is a great example of someone who is now thriving in this environment.

UCA has a student-run newscast and asked her to be the anchor.

It’s something the self-professed shy girl would never have even contemplated at her old school.

But she accepted the invitation and says now, there’s no looking back.

“Because they are always, constantly cheering me up and telling me good job, that I did great, they’re always giving me tips just trying to help me out and keep progressing," said Sanchez.

Thanks to her new found confidence, Yesenia is now looking towards the future.

“Well I would probably want to become an anchor for FOX 13 news, I’ve always watched it since I was little and I was like; ‘Oh wow that’s very interesting!”

UCA is a free, online charter school but they’re pretty close to full capacity right now. If you’d like more information you can go here.