By Jane St. Pierre
I am a tremendous proponent of online education. Even though I am a certified teacher who has taught locally for over 20 years, I chose to enroll both of my sons in an online school for their high school educational experiences. Many variables mentioned in other blog posts prompted this decision. Now that we are through the tunnel with both of my guys successfully graduated from high school, I can look back and thankfully deem this to be one of my better decisions in life!
When COVID-19 reared its ugly and unpredictable head, I must admit that hearing students would experience an online education seemed to be a silver lining amid chaos. I was so delighted that others might be able to reap the benefits enjoyed by my family. As the weeks rolled by, I have heard both positive and negative comments regarding the COVID-19 remote learning experiences.
So much depends on the QUALITY of the online experience being delivered by your child’s school. I have come to greatly appreciate the many components “in place” that I took for granted because our school was incredibly equipped for remote learning. There are various online educational opportunities available for students in Louisiana such as Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy, K12, and University View Academy. My sons attended a private online school – International Connections Academy – based out of Maryland. (This is the private version of Connections Academy which is currently applying for a public charter in Louisiana.) Since I am speaking of my personal experience, the components mentioned below were delivered by Connections Academy, a division of Pearson Learning Company. (Should you consider enrollment in one of the other online schools, you should do your research to verify that these components exist there as well.)
- Certified educators teach each class.Certified educators teach each class.
- All digital textbooks are available to students. (The public-school versions even supply the computer!) Other licenses are also extended when needed such as access to digital biology laboratories for experiments and a digital graphing calculator for use in math classes. Each semester, the school provided all necessities online.
- In addition to textbooks, there are countless resources embedded in every lesson. For example, links to Khan Academy explanations, Discovery video clips, Teachlet Tutorials, and other resources such as links to encyclopedias and other types of literature are available to support the topic being learned and stretch the students’ understanding. These added resources serve as remediation and enrichment. As a teacher, I know for sure that it would have taken hours of my time to assemble the collection of supporting resources provided in each lesson.
- The possibility of class offerings is tremendous. For example, one of my sons wanted his foreign language selection to be German. Even though he was one of two students requesting German, the school was able to enroll him in an online class offered in another state. He enjoyed German for two years!
- Pearson has a team of tech specialists available to receive calls if any technology glitches are experienced. Honestly, most of the problems that occurred for us were user caused! However, they were promptly and respectfully fixed – every single time.
- The school has a complete staff – principal, guidance counselors, and teachers – who promptly respond to every email or call placed (within 24 hours, usually sooner). All members of the staff were able to assess my sons’ progress with the incredible tracking system in place. They had information regarding grades, attendance, lesson progress, etc. at their fingertips within seconds.
- Live Lessons are held in each subject. Students could choose whether to enable video of themselves, microphone, or participation via typing responses in a conversation sidebar. Students interact with the teachers and other students during these lessons. There is also an option of attending a recording of the Live Lessons (and submitting a small assignment proving attendance) if students have a scheduling conflict.
- Students interact in Discussions which are embedded in some lessons. In such activities, a topic is presented by the teachers and students take a stance on an issue, post it, and include reasoning behind their views. Students are then required to respond to at least two classmates – either in agreement or disagreement – with further supporting details. These conversations are moderated by the teachers who offer instruction regarding online etiquette and components in a respectful exchange. (As a side note, our online school experience was 100% bully-free!)
- Assessments are delivered in the form of lesson checks (a few questions at the end of each lesson to measure a student’s understanding), quizzes, tests, portfolios, experiments, and essays. Teachers place telephone calls to students in every subject to make a connection and evaluate progress. All learning styles are wonderfully valued and employed.
- Any student requiring additional assistance can sign up for private online sessions with teachers. Live Tutors are always available.
- Socialization with other students is facilitated. There is a multitude of clubs students can join – even during the summer – that are sponsored and moderated by the school. Field trips are offered for in-person interaction. These teachers knew my kids! (The 12th grade English teacher learned that my son played trombone in a rock band and played his music as students were assembling for her Live Lessons. The biology teacher quickly gathered that one of my boys is an avid fisherman and geared a telephone conversation to include a comparison between fishing in the Gulf of Mexico vs. the Pacific Ocean – all while skillfully bringing tides and other lesson topics into the conversation.)
- Another wonderful aspect of our online school was the master calendar (for every day of the school year from the first day to the last day) viewable by both students and parents/learning coaches. Gone were the days of trying to find papers in a book bag or calling others for reminders about assignments and deadlines. (This is a critical accommodation for students diagnosed with ADD/ADHD.) Daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly assignments, assessments, etc. can be viewed with the click of a finger. Seeing that a cumbersome essay is due in two weeks allows for a break down in the tasks – doing a little each day – until the deadline. Same with large tests and portfolios. Having access to this academic year calendar teaches organization as opposed to being the “crutch” many school administrators/ teachers believe it to be. We cherished knowing exactly where accurate information could always be found about academic responsibilities – and it was available 24/7. This beautifully allows students to plan for evenings when other responsibilities (such as work, extracurricular activities, family obligations, etc.) arise – perhaps submitting lessons on the weekend to clear out school obligations on a week day.
It is my hope that this blog post has highlighted the enormous potential of online schools to facilitate exceptional learning. Both of my boys who had very different educational needs were beautifully accommodated remotely. If your experience with education during the COVID-19 pandemic has been less than desirable, please know that the potential for online excellence exists!