SASKATOON -- While school students continue to enjoy their summer vacation, many won’t be returning to the classroom in a month’s time.

That's because the pandemic has led some families to choose permanent online learning, something Saskatchewan’s Flex Ed online virtual school is seeing the results of that firsthand according to principal Ann Cook.

“When COVID came, we grew by more than triple our student population,” Cook told CTV News.

Since numbers surged to almost a thousand enrolled students, administrators of the homegrown Saskatchewan school started hiring more staff and expanding their programs to accommodate the increased interest.

The numbers are anticipated to stay the same for the coming school year with a few extras expected to enroll over the next month. Cook says they have students and teachers from all across the province with two-thirds made up of Kindergarten through Grade 9 students and one-third in grades 10 to 12.

Teachers at the virtual school follow the Saskatchewan curriculum.

Before COVID-19, people came to the school for a variety of reasons.

“They came to us because they travel, or they’re training to be professional athletes, they have long bus rides or they live in a remote area, or they’ve been bullied, or they have anxiety or different challenges," Cook said.

"They’ve come for all different sorts of reasons and this year we are finding people are saying, 'we came because of COVID, but we’re staying for the great education.'”

In 2012, the program became funded by the province and while there is an enrollment or registration fee of around $300, sometimes the charge is waived if a student qualifies or if a family has more than three children.

The courses are designed to be flexible to accommodate different student personalities and learning styles.

Camdyn Leverick is a Grade 8 student and started Flex Ed last school year and says she likes the program because teachers give the assignments, sometimes in a group online lesson or sometimes individually and the students work through them at their own time.

“It helps a lot with learning time management skills and focusing on your work when you’re supposed to be working,” Leverick told CTV News.

Leverick says she wanted to try Flex Ed because working online is a completely different environment where you can focus on your own work rather than worry about other students in the class.

Leverick family

She says initially she wanted to focus on the schoolwork, but about four months into the program she joined the school’s theatre club, one of many extracurricular clubs offered and met friends with similar interests.

She also, found her marks improved since joining Flex Ed which is similar to what her brother Koehn saw also.

“Mine have definitely improved by a lot. I was probably a 75% student, now all of my assignments were over 90%,” Koehn Leverick told CTV News.

He plays competitive hockey and golf and is able to fit high-level sports training into his day.

The Grade 6 student says, he can usually finish his school work in three hours then the rest of the day is open.

Their mom, Kristy Novak Leverick says, she put her younger son, into the program because of some issues he was having in a regular school then as a teacher herself she bought into the program so much she was hired as a teacher with Flex Ed.

She is now the vice-principal and enrolled all four of her children in the program.

Her son is especially flourishing in the program, because he struggles with written responses to assignments, but has the option of using voice to text when handing in work, she says.

“Having that verbal option gives him the ability to put it all on paper, where if you asked him to handwrite that, you’d get a fraction of his knowledge because the challenge was too great,” Novak Leverick said.

In this case, the individualized program allows her son to get all of his work translated and then, his teachers spend more time showing him how to edit his work and ensure proper punctuation and grammar as being used.

The family plans to head to their cottage at Emma Lake in September while kicking off the 2021-2022 school year.

As for the Saskatoon Public Schools, a spokesperson tells CTV News the division won't know definitive enrollment numbers until September, but that its online learning centre was overwhelmingly popular during the 2020-21 school year with enrollment hitting 3886 students by March.