From the kitchen table to a laptop logged in from just about anywhere, a growing number of Ohio students are redefining what it means to be in the classroom.
Virtual schools and modern homeschooling cater to families looking for something different from the typical brick-and-mortar classroom, often due to concerns over school safety, curriculum limitations and fitting in more family time.
Here’s what you need to know about these alternative educational choices:
What is it? Online schools offer the option to complete classes wherever there’s an internet connection. Students interact with teachers and classmates via webcam, email and phone, and a parent serves as an at-home teacher during the younger grades.
Who attends? Virtual classes often appeal to students who are ahead or behind academically or those who’ve struggled with the social aspects of the traditional classroom. Because of the flexible schedule, online learning can also work for families who’d like to supplement with at-home religious education, as well as older students who are juggling jobs, childcare and/or demanding schedules, such as elite athletes.
What’s the schedule like? Students studying online have greater control of their own schedules. Schoolwork can be completed any time of day, anywhere, and students can take longer with certain lessons or quickly progress through others without having to wait for classmates to catch up.
At TRECA Digital Academy, a full-time online school for K-12 students statewide, students are required to work online five hours and 10 minutes per school day. The self-discipline it takes to commit to the schedule of online learning helps students well after graduation, advocates say. “The stronger demand for time-management and digital literacy develops a significant skill that many of our graduates are able to take with them post-graduation,” says Jakie Lea, TRECA’s marketing coordinator. “Oftentimes, it helps sets them apart from students coming from a traditional brick-and-mortar setting.”
The transition from a typical school schedule to an online learning environment can be an adjustment for some students, but schools have multiple staff members in place to help keep kids on track. “Anytime a student transitions to a new school, they’re going to have changes in rules, school culture and the way things are done,” says Kristin Stewart, head of school of Ohio Virtual Academy, a statewide K-12 online charter school. “The good thing is, we understand that we’re quite different. We’re building a partnership – parents, students and staff. We all have to work together for students to be successful.”
Akron Digital Academy: akrondigitalacademy.org
Buckeye Online School for Success: go2boss.com
Greater Ohio Virtual School: mygovs.com
Ohio Connections Academy: connectionsacademy.com/ohio-eschool
Ohio Virtual Academy: ohva.k12.com
TRECA Digital Academy: treca.org
What is it? Homeschooling gives parents the opportunity to craft their child’s education at home, often with the assistance of purchased curriculums or co-ops of fellow homeschooling families. The at-home option has seen a resurgence in the last decade – between 1999 and 2012, the number of homeschooled children more than doubled, from 850,000 to 1.8 million, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The latest numbers show that about 3 percent of students ages 5 through 17 were reported as being homeschooled in 2016 – about 1.7 million students – but that number is thought to be a low estimation, since many states don’t require homeschoolers be registered as such.
Who’s homeschooled? Advocates tout homeschooling for its flexible schedule, personalized learning options and focus on family time. Requirements for homeschooling vary by state. In Ohio, families must provide 900 hours of instruction per year on specific subjects, including language, geography, math, science, health and music. The person providing the instruction must have a high school diploma or the equivalent, and they are required to notify the superintendent in the child’s home district of the family’s decision to homeschool, providing an assessment of the student’s work each year. Kentucky requires homeschooling families to provide a minimum of 1,062 hours of instruction in no less than 170 days on reading, writing, spelling, grammar, history, math, science and civics. Families are also required to notify the superintendent in the child’s home district of their intent to homeschool and to record each student’s progress in “all subjects taught at the same intervals as the local public schools.”
What’s the schedule like? Even more so than online schools, homeschool families are able to set their own schedules depending on their child’s age, interests and abilities. Many museums, libraries and parks offer programs specifically for homeschool families, and homeschool co-ops provide added structure and social outings.
Ohio homeschooling requirements: education.ohio.gov/Topics/Quality-School-Choice/Home-Schooling
Kentucky homeschooling requirements: education.ky.gov/federal/fed/pages/home-school.aspx
“Going to school” can be defined in many ways today – which is great news for families for whom a traditional educational environment is not the best fit for their student. If you’re considering a virtual or homeschool option for your child, do some research, talk with parents who have been there, and find the academic situation where your child can thrive.