My 13-year old son attends virtual school. He takes all of his classes online, through the use of our home PC. It is not the type of school that my wife and I originally intended for him (we’re traditionalists in that regard). But he had an extended illness at the beginning of his 7th grade school year. And though he’s thankfully fully recovered, he’d missed so many days that virtual school was the only way for him to avoid being held back a year. So when this was our only option, we had concerns about whether or not it would work. Would our bright, friendly son become a free-flowing genius, or an overweight moron starving for interaction with ‘real’ people? After a year of coaching my son through the joys and problems of virtual school, the answer is, neither. Virtual school has its plusses and minuses, so maybe this article will help you decide whether virtual school is right for your child.
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First, there are several options for attending. These include attending both regular and virtual school at the same time, a private virtual school option, a home school/virtual school mix, and attending weekly courses. In many U.S. states, your child may attend either a ‘local’ or state virtual school program, or a combination thereof. You can also enroll in virtual school directly, through your local program or indirectly, as a homeschooled student.
As a virtual school student, your child will be expected to work on 4 to 6 courses per week, depending upon the option you choose. Virtual school is offered from Kindergarten through 12th Grade. Generally, your child will be expected to contact his instructors at least once a month. Courses are divided into two segments (half-courses) per school year; each of which is further divided into chapters. At the conclusion of every chapter, your child has a “discussion based assessment” or DBA, with his instructor (conducted over the phone), followed by a chapter test. Each segment also ends with an exam.
The biggest advantage of attending virtual school is scheduling. You and your child set the daily schedule. There are no tardies, although some virtual school programs do require excuses if the child does not attend on a certain day. You can even attend on weekends or holidays, if desired, and working through the summer is encouraged. Your child will be expected to prepare a daily activity log but, otherwise, the time you start and finish is up to you.
Virtual school is generally less intense than ‘real’ school. Two to three hours per day usually suffices and there is no homework. Some courses may require your child to (gasp, shudder) actually read a book or go to the library.
For parents who are concerned about bullying, peer pressure, and kids being exposed to sex and drugs (yes, it’s happening even in middle school now), virtual school is a way to keep your child engaged in the public school system while sparing him from potentially negative or dangerous experiences.
There are pitfalls to virtual school, too. It won’t work unless there is at least one stay-at-home adult who can supervise your child’s studies and help with his work. A fair degree of computer literacy is necessary, for both you and your child.
Also, since there is no online version of a phys. Ed. class, you should build in some sort of daily exercise or play routine for your child. Your community probably has one or more home school parent organizations that offer a variety of extracurricular activities and there are always local soccer, Little League or other times of sports clubs.
It is important to hold to a fairly consistent schedule. Doctors’ appointments, work-at-home jobs and family emergencies are more easily accommodated in a virtual school household than in a ‘real’ school environment, but it is still possible to fall behind. Courses may also be of varying length and complexity.
If your local school district has an annual testing requirement, your child is still required to take it. You’ll be notified as to when and where your child will attend the testing sessions. Our son had to take the test at his old middle school. It was a nervous few days, but he passed, proving that virtual school is just as good as regular school if your child applies himself.
Finally, virtual school kids are still kids. My son would much rather play his favorite video game or shoot hoops with the kid down the street (who is also home schooled) than work on his classes. Arguments and pouts are frequent. Be firm but, not oppressive. Remember, you are now your child’s teacher!