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WESTFIELD — After successfully duplicating the classroom via the internet, the Westfield Virtual School is looking at an online version of another pillar of high school: sports.

“It’s essentially playing video games, but you’re doing it competitively,” Principal Stacy Burgess told the Westfield School Committee recently. E-sports, she said, “has really grown throughout the nation.”

She said staff at the school, a Westfield public school that serves grades 6-12 via computer, are excited about adding extracurricular activities and volunteer opportunities to their offerings, including a student council. She said the school already hosts in-person social events so that the students can get to know each other and make social connections.

Additionally, students enrolled at Westfield Virtual School can compete in the usual varsity sports by playing on Westfield High School teams. But getting sweaty isn’t for everyone, Burgess said at the March 4 meeting of the School Committee.

“It provides an opportunity for all students — not every student is athletic,” she said of e-sports. “Some students really enjoy playing video games.”

E-sports is more than just playing video games, however. Though competitors may be using the same software and controllers that the average teen plugs into his or her Xbox or Playstation for an impromptu gaming session at home, an e-sports program is a real team.

“You have a coach. There’s a curriculum you teach,” Burgess said. She added that there are also restrictions: the school wouldn’t sponsor an e-sports team for an inappropriately “violent or dangerous” video game.

Like traditional sports at traditional schools, e-sports would allow students to express themselves in a non-academic way within the Westfield Virtual School community, Burgess said. It also allows avid gamers to compete online within a regulated league, rather than against anonymous strangers.

Not everything at the virtual school is online. Burgess said once a month, she tries to have an in-person event, sometimes “out in the community” such as an ice skating day at Amelia Park Arena.

“They really are the best day of the month when it happens, because the kids are so happy and excited to be together and see their friends in person,” she said.

Westfield Virtual School’s enrollment has increased from 64 to 98 since November, Burgess said. As a local public school, enrollment is open to Westfield residents only. She said there are only nine virtual schools in the state, most of them in eastern Massachusetts. School Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski said there is a bill on Beacon Hill to allow out-of-district students to attend local virtual schools.

Families choose the virtual school for a variety of reasons, Burgess said. Some students cannot leave the hospital or home for medical reasons. Some have anxiety or other emotional reasons for not attending class in person. Some have been expelled from in-person school. Some are gifted and talented teens who work better with the project-based learning model of online education.

“We really accept all students,” Burgess said.

As the enrollment grows, the school staff is growing, from the equivalent of 13 full-time positions to 15 this year. One of the new positions was a staff member to work with students whose first language is not English.

Burgess said it takes a special kind of teacher to succeed at virtual instruction.

“You have to be ‘better than the average bear,’ because it’s that much more challenging to engage the students” through a screen, she said. When hiring staff, administrators pay special attention to the candidate’s ability to form personal relationships and support a student.

The school shares some of its academic staff with Westfield High School and Westfield Technical Academy. The virtual school staff are based in the Westwood Building on North Elm Street, the same building as the School Department central offices.

mballway@thereminder.com | + posts