Graduates of River City Academy practice for their virtual graduation with principal Dawn Edwards-Smith this week. The graduates are Charlie Rogers, Izabelle Covey, Maia Whitney, Parker Kincaid, Quai Plate, Kenneth Dyer and Tristen Kane. Not pictured is Andrew Fletcher. (Photo provided by Dawn Edwards-Smith)

Graduates of River City Academy practice for their virtual graduation with principal Dawn Edwards-Smith this week. The graduates are Charlie Rogers, Izabelle Covey, Maia Whitney, Parker Kincaid, Quai Plate, Kenneth Dyer and Tristen Kane. Not pictured is Andrew Fletcher. (Photo provided by Dawn Edwards-Smith)

River City Academy goes virtual

The institution, started in 2007, was the only one on the Kenai Peninsula to do a virtual graduation.

For River City Academy, it was online all the way.

The school, which provides a performance-based curriculum for students in grades seven through 12, made a smooth transition to remote emergency learning when students started with classes again March 30.

River City Academy, which is housed in Skyview Middle School, also went virtual to graduate a class of eight Wednesday. The institution, started in 2007, was the only one on the Kenai Peninsula to do a virtual graduation.

Graduates Maia Whitney and Parker Kincaid, the valedictorian, both said there were positives and negatives to the online event.

“We’re not even doing a graduation, we’re just doing a video, so we don’t get to see family and friends,” Whitney said. “It’s also a relief, because I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.”

River City Academy has 90 students plus principal Dawn Edwards-Smith, four full-time teachers, a full-time secretary and a special education teacher.

Kincaid, who started with RCA in seventh grade, said the school is very welcoming but it’s not for everybody.

“Since you work at your own pace, it’s easy to fall behind,” said Kincaid, the son of Jesse and Julie Kincaid of Soldotna. “You have to be self-motivated enough to stick with it.”

Kincaid said that self-motivation came in handy once the new coronavirus shut down classrooms for the year.

“It was great,” he said. “I was mostly taking college classes, but I had one class left and it worked well.”

Whitney, daughter of Clark Whitney and Tonja Mahoney, went to RCA her freshman year after attending Skyview Middle School.

“RCA had less students and less bullying,” she said. “There were only a few students per class so I could finish my work a lot faster. There were no deadlines for all your work so it was your duty to get your work done.”

Whitney also had little trouble converting to remote education.

“It worked out great,” she said. “I only had two classes left.”

Kincaid plans to go to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, to study mechanical engineering in the fall, but those plans are up in the air due to the pandemic. If BYU doesn’t take students back on campus and uses remote learning instead, Kincaid said he is prepared to succeed in such an environment.

Whitney said she will take a year off from education and pursue her hobby of art while working a full- or part-time job. She then would like to enroll at Kenai Peninsula College.

Both Kincaid and Whitney said they’d like to attend RCA’s barbecue at the start of the school year in fall to see teachers after missing them at graduation.

Graduates got to see Edwards-Smith over the weekend when she delivered an RCA graduation sign, an RCA quarantined face mask and other goodies in a COVID-19 friendly manner.

Early Wednesday evening, videos featuring speakers, staff, scholarships and awards, presentation of tassels, and presentation of diplomas were supposed to be uploaded to the school’s website, but Edwards-Smith said there were some technical difficulties. The idea is for graduates to be able to get together with their family and watch the videos at a convenient time.

Edwards-Smith, the principal since 2009, gave her students and staff credit for the way they adjusted to remote learning.

“The kids, once we got the technology in their hands, they picked it up and ran with it,” she said.

Edwards-Smith said RCA has a number of features that made the transition to remote learning easier.

• Classes, though taught in person, all have a digital parallel.

• Office hours are normally after school Tuesdays, but during the shutdown RCA had teacher-staffed Zoom office hours from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.

• Twice a week, there is a schoolwide morning meeting. That continued online during the shutdown, and Edwards-Smith said a number of students even attended morning meeting before remote learning started to help the school work out bugs. The principal said this was a great way to hear student concerns and address them, with the top concern being loneliness.

• Each student has a mentor teacher and a learning team put together by the mentor teacher. Students were able to keep meeting with their mentor teacher once a week and learning team twice a week during the shutdown.

At graduation, RCA also said goodbye to math teacher Deanne Pearson, retiring after 24 years of teaching.

Edwards-Smith gave graduates credit for persevering through getting moved out of Soldotna Prep after the 2018-19 school year, not being able to go outside at the beginning of this school year due to the Swan Lake Fire, then ending with the pandemic.

“They started being locked in the building and ended the school year being locked out of the building,” she said. “It’s definitely been a year to build resiliency.”

Graduates: Izabelle Marine Covey, Kenneth C. Dyer, Andrew Jay Fletcher, Tristen Lee Kane, Parker J. Kincaid (valedictorian), Quai Simeon Plate, Charlie Nicholas Rogers, Maia Cherise Whitney.

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