The Pros and Cons of Online School
In recent years, people have considered enrolling their child in an online school. There are countless advertisements for eschools like Connections Academy and K12. The popularity of eschools continues to grow and there are many reasons for parents to make the switch including bullying, safety, and a more personalized approach to learning. It seems like a great opportunity, but before enrolling your child in an online school, it's important to understand how it works and what's expected. You need to consider if this is going to be a good fit for your child and your family.
My son will be entering his seventh year at Ohio Connections Academy. He started in Kindergarten and will now be entering sixth grade. My husband and I chose online school for our son because at the time, the school district we lived in was failing. We wanted to make sure he was getting a quality education and after doing our research, we chose to enroll him in Connections. This opportunity has been amazing for our son and our family. Not only is Connections giving him a quality education, but we've been able to spend more time together because of the flexiblity that online school offers. However, it hasn't always been sunshine and rainbows: We faced a lot of push back from family, friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers when we first started; Had to learn to navigate the online school environment and all that entailed; and experienced our fair share of ups and downs along the way.
After seven years, we've learned a lot and continue to learn as our son gets older. I now run a Facebook group for Connections Academy Learning Coaches all across the United States as well as a group for Ohio Connections Academy. It has been a fantastic resource for me and I know that the other parents value the support and encouragement from the group as well.
However, I see a lot of parents who enroll their children and have no idea what to expect. While online school is a fantastic opportunity, from the flexibility that it offers to the personalized education, it is not for everyone. It's important to understand what it entails and make sure it's going to be a good fit for your child and your family. Below, I've outlined five key components to help you decide if this would be a good fit.
Online schools offer greater flexibility than the traditional brick and mortar schools. You and your child can have a full school day, comfy in your pajamas. You can take as many breaks as you need, go to the bathroom without a hall pass, have a snack whenever you'd like. Some eschools, like Connections, allow you to schedule your school day and your week as you see fit.
The biggest mistake I see with new families is not understanding what this flexibility actually means. You cannot just take a day off because you don't feel like having school that day. You don't get to complete your lessons whenever you like. There are deadlines, requirements, and laws that you must follow. Most eschools are online public schools, meaning they are required to follow the state's laws concerning attendance hours. As the parent or learning coach, you are responsible for marking attendance and ensuring that your child meets the daily or weekly attendance hours requirement. In Ohio, elementary and middle school students are required to have 27.5 hours of school time each week. This roughly averages 5.5 hours per day, five days a week. Some schools will allow you to schedule your lessons on days you prefer. For example, my family follows an nontraditional weekly schedule. My son completes school work on Fridays - Tuesdays, taking Wednesday and Thursday off. It is also possible to work longer hours for less days. For example, you could easily complete 6.5 hours of school time for two days, seven hours for one day, and 7.5 hours on one day. Then you could have a three day weekend. In addition, some eschools will allow you to work over holidays and save that vacation day for another time. For example, your child could work on Labor Day, but then take off a Tuesday a few weeks later. As long as your child meets the weekly hour requirement, is actively learning, and completing lessons, you are good to go. However, there are restrictions on both the minimum and maximum hours of school time per day your child can log, as well as what actually counts toward attendance.
Time Management, Organization, and Effort
Being organized and having good time management skills are important. Many families find it helpful to designate one room or area in their house as their school room. This keeps everything in one spot and minimizes distractions. Your child will know that when they are in the school area, it's time to focus on learning. You can get as creative as you'd like with your space. I have converted our den into our school room. We have a computer desk for my son's laptop and space for my own. He has a three drawer storage container where we keep art supplies, science and math manipulatives, and extra books and notebooks. My son also has his own desk where he keeps his textbooks, notebooks for classes, pens and pencils, etc. On the wall, I hung up a medium sized whiteboard where he can work out math problems or practice spelling words. We spend a good chunk of our school day in this room.
With Connections, my son and I both have access to the entire sememster's syllabus, broken down by each subject. We can look through each subject, view the lessons, and see what assessments or special projects will be due. This is great for staying organized and on track. It's important to look ahead and be prepared for quizzes, tests, and special projects. Some assignments take more time than others and staying on top of everything ensures that nothing gets skipped and my son doesn't fall behind. This is especially important when it comes to those special projects, called portfolios at Connections Academy. Basically a portfolio project is a way for your student to showcase all that they've learned within the unit. This could be in the form of an essay, a PowerPoint presentation, an art project, etc. These projects take a little extra time and effort. This is where staying organized and having good time management skills comes into play. Everything is laid out well in advance and students are given plenty of time to complete the project. These are often not meant to be completed in one day, but rather in steps throughout the lessons in the unit.
Being at home can offer a lot of distractions, there's a lot of freedom and tempation. It's easy to lounge on the couch and watch TV or open a new tab in your browser to watch YouTube videos. You will have to learn to navigate this together as a family. Having a set schedule and established ground rules ensures that your child understands the expectations. For example, my son knows that he will not get any of his electronics until after school. He earns those privileges every day by showing up to class with a willingness to learn, trying his best, and completing his work. We start early, anywhere from 7:30 - 8:00 in the morning and usually finish the day by 1:30 - 2:00 in the afternoon. He takes a break when he needs one, but he is not allowed to play his games or use his devices until the school day has ended. When my husband gets home from work, he chats with our son about the school day. My son will tell him something interesting he learned and sometimes asks a question or two about Math. My husband and I both being involved in our son's learning offers him different approaches and perspectives, offers variety, and shows him that we are both invested in his education.
It's also important to understand that elementary students, especially the younger ones, will require a lot of help. You will be spending most, if not all, of the school day coaching your child through their lessons. This is also true for older grades if your student is transferring from a traditional brick and mortar school. It takes time to adjust to this new environment. Your student has to learn to become more independent and responsible for their education, and you will both be navigating this new adventure together. It's important to be patient and have a sense of humor. There will be days when you want to pull out your hair, scream, and cry. There will be times when you will find yourself questioning this decision. Keep at it, one day at time, one lesson at a time. Remember why you chose online school. This is an incredible opportunity for you to be highly involved in your child's education. You get to spend more time with your child and it is incredibly rewarding to be present during those a-ha moments when your child first starts to read or grasps a difficult concept. Being together, coaching your child through his or her lessons is a valuable treasure. On those difficult days, pause for a few minutes and take a deep breath. Take a break if needed. Go outside and play for half an hour or take a walk around your block. Then come back to the lessons refreshed and focused. While online school is not for everyone, if you keep at it and remember why you chose this, you and your child will be on the path to success.
Online school requires self-motivation, especially as you get deeper into the school year. At the beginning, there is excitement in the air. You get your big box of books and supplies, you get your educational space all set up, and most likely, you and your child are ready to get started. You want to dive into the lessons and learn new things. A few months later, that excitement wears off and you and your child might find yourselves feeling tired and run down, maybe bored from the routine. But you still have to get those lessons completed and meet attendance requirements. You can't just skip a day because you don't feel like doing anything. Yes, there are many things you still have to make sure your child is doing, but you do have quite a bit of control. For younger kids, make the lessons fun. Experiment with how you complete the lessons, find new ways of explaining the material, and get creative! Pinterest is a great resource. Look up fun, grade level appropriate writing prompts, find an interesting art craft to make, or search for how teachers approach different topics. Switch up your routine once in awhile. If you always start with math, try starting with science. Maybe have your child complete their lessons at the kitchen counter instead of in your designated learning space or head to the library for a change of scenery. If you always get dressed before school, maybe let your child do their lessons in his or her pajamas one day. Take advantage of the flexibility afforded to you and remember to have fun. Learning shouldn't be so rigid and strict. If you find that you and your child are stressed out, take a break for a fun learning opportunity such as going on a nature walk, visiting a science museum, or just going outside for gym class.
The biggest push-back I receive from people about online school concerns socialization. Everyone wants to know how my son will ever get to socialize with his peers if he's staying at home. This is usually the first question my husband and I receive when people learn that he attends an online school. Our thought has always been that kids don't go to school to make friends. They are there to learn, to get an education.
Online school actually offers much in the way of socialization. Our son has regular contact with his teachers through daily live lessons. This is basically a virtual classroom, where the teacher focuses on a specific subject. They go through the lesson with the students, show examples, and answer questions. At Connections Academy, my son would attend live lessons for math every week day and twice a week for language arts. In fifth grade, he also had a science live lesson once a week. No only was he interacting with his teacher, but he also got to chat with his classmates. In addition to that, he also received a monthly phone call from his homeroom teacher. This is one on one time over the phone with his teacher, where the teacher would work with him on a variety of subjects to ensure that he was meeting grade level objectives. I also got to chat with his teacher during this time to discuss any questions or concerns I had.
Connections Academy also hosts field trips throughout the year. These are optional activities at no cost to the families. At the beginning of the school year, they are typically held at various parks around the state. This is a great opportunity to meet other families in your area. Other places we've gone include the Bob Evans Farm in southeast Ohio and the Columbus Zoo. They've also had field trips to rec centers and observatories around the state. In addition, we are always encouraged to meet up with other families in the area for our own adventures. These meet-ups are not sponsored by the school, rather it's a time for kids and parents to get together, make friends, and support and encourage each other in this online school environment.
Aside from those opportunities, the flexibility of online school allows your child to explore their passions outside of the classroom. Many students enjoy competitive dance, sports, or other activities that require a lot of dedication and travel; activitives they wouldn't have time for if they attended a traditional brick and mortar environment.
Other ideas for socialization include joining your local YMCA or JCC, martial arts, local sports teams or dance classes, attending STEM days at theme parks or museums in your area, getting together with your family and friends, volunteering in your community, church groups, the possibilities are endless. My son loves to play with our neighbors, we travel all over the state to see different parks and meet the officers who work them, and we take the time to visit our family as often as possible. Socialization doesn't just happen at recess or in the hallway between classes. Online school can give your child access to better socialization and allow him or her the freedom to follow his or her passions outside of school.
© 2019 Alyssa