(ARA) - There are now about 2.5 million pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade students in the U.S. who get at least some of their education online. An estimated 250,000 students are getting their entire educations virtually, from full-time virtual schools.
While every family has its own reasons for choosing full-time virtual school, the majority have children who are simply not thriving, for whatever reason, in a traditional classroom setting. Many find increased personalization and flexibility of online schools enable their students to succeed academically, since they can work from home at a pace that is more in line with their learning style, and at a level that suits their educational needs.
But while many families are exploring full-time virtual schools as an option, it's important to remember that this form of public education isn't a good fit for every student, or every family.
"Virtual school is a great choice for many students, but it requires a commitment on the part of parents to be involved in their child's education," says Sylvia Pryor, director for community outreach at Connections Academy. "Although many students adjust quickly, not all students are suited to learning at home. At our information sessions for prospective families, we let parents and students know what they can expect in the virtual school setting. We want students to thrive in our program, and understanding how it works and what is required is essential."
Families interested in full-time online school should consider the following "ABCs" of successful virtual schooling to determine if this form of education is a good fit:
Availability and attitude of parent and student
At most full-time virtual schools, a parent or trusted adult monitors student progress in the home throughout the day and works with certified teachers who direct instruction. This requires a parent's time, especially when more than one student is enrolled. Virtual schools are not unsupervised, self-study programs. While online schools provide a flexible learning environment, parental involvement and responsibility are critical to successful participation. Students should also have the right mindset: being self-motivated, open to learning in a nontraditional setting, and having a comfort level with technology all contribute to success.
Beyond the traditional classroom
Online schools give students the freedom and flexibility to learn almost anytime, anywhere. However, it is important that virtual school students have a dedicated learning space at home. The learning space need not be large or a separate room, but it should be organized, with room to store books and school supplies, and located in a relatively distraction-free zone. When it comes to socialization with classmates, many virtual schools provide opportunities for students to socialize both in person and online. Online clubs, activities and field trips are both educational and social. And because they have a more flexible schedule, some students find they can participate in extracurricular activities that occur during the traditional school day. If you think your student would thrive in this environment, online learning may be a great choice. And although virtual public school students enjoy flexibility, it is important to note that they are still required to take the same standardized tests as all public school students.
Challenging, computer-enhanced curriculum
Students attending virtual schools like Connections Academy should be prepared for a challenging, comprehensive curriculum. Students master the core subjects - reading/language arts, mathematics, science and social studies - and can also take elective courses. At virtual school, the computer is a tool for learning -- which today's tech-savvy students usually love. Students also use offline resources like textbooks, science kits and more. Although training and technical support are provided, parents should have a comfort level with computers too, since online learning management systems are typically used to manage daily lessons and communicate with teachers.
If virtual school seems like a good fit for your family, do your homework and pick a high-quality school. Parents should look for a school with a track record of delivering student achievement and growth and high levels of parent and student satisfaction. Other quality benchmarks include accreditation from a recognized accrediting body, full-time certified teachers who direct student learning, state-of-the-art technology resources and learning materials and community activities like clubs and field trips for students.
In most states, virtual school enrollment is just starting for the coming school year. In states where virtual public schools are not available, there are tuition-based virtual private school options. To learn more about virtual school and if it's right for your family, visit www.ConnectionsAcademy.com