While most schools reopened for in-person instruction during the 2021-22 school year, not all families were scrambling to return. For some, the advantages of remote learning — autonomy, flexibility and high-quality curriculum — were enough to make a permanent move from a brick-and-mortar to a full-time virtual school.
That was the case with us. Read on to hear about what drove our decisions to change, how we’re addressing challenges and what benefits we have experienced since making the move.
Why we went virtual
“When the pandemic hit, we discussed the idea of trying something different for the 2020-2021 school year. Our children have always struggled with the curriculum and the constant distractions at their [traditional public] school. When my husband and I expressed concern about our daughters’ academic performance, we felt like we weren’t being heard — we wanted stability for our daughters. After researching options, we enrolled them in Wisconsin Connections Academy — a full-time online public school. We’ve been extremely happy with our decision — our girls are thriving.”
“While teachers at our brick-and-mortar school did an amazing job wrapping up the 2019-20 school year, we felt that the resources and systems provided through an established, fully online program would better serve our needs.”
“My son was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in July of 2020; so, for his safety, he couldn’t go back to attending in-person.”
Our concerns and challenges
“My main concern was making sure the online school schedule worked with my own — since that’s one of the main reasons we were thinking about making the switch.”
“Initially, we had our doubts about online schooling, especially after experiencing our brick-and-mortar school district’s virtual learning. There was also the initial concern over socialization, but the flexibility and opportunities that have been created for our daughters has been amazing.
The first few months were a struggle; there were tears and frustration. I was working from home full-time, our daughters were behind in math and reading — they could barely write a sentence, let alone a full paragraph, as some of their first assignments required. My retired mother started assisting us with schooling during the week while my husband was working. Now, in our second year with Wisconsin Connections Academy, the girls have taken on responsibility for their lessons, are stepping into their roles as students and setting their own goals and schedules.”
“We were more concerned about the support that teachers at our brick-and-mortar school were being given, the efficacy of learning on Zoom and my own ability to work with Google Classroom.”
“My biggest concern was making sure that the way our kids were learning would be similar to what they experienced at their brick-and-mortar school.”
“To make sure the boys still had time for other activities — like getting outside — we had to rethink their schedules.”
Benefits and lessons learned
“Both of our kids excelled — they learned more last year [in online school] than they ever did during in-person instruction.”
“I was surprised by how much my son was benefitting from virtual schooling. He has an auditory processing disorder, which we have been working with for several years — but I didn’t realize all the challenges that he faced until I was around while he’s in school. And, while not as surprising, the flexibility of online schooling helped us realize that sometimes our best work is done later in the evenings, or on the weekend. Not having to learn on someone else’s schedule is amazing!”
Advice for making online learning work
“Honestly, when you decide to make the switch, it can be scary. My husband and I were uncertain if this would be the right move, if we could handle it and if our daughters would be able to succeed in this type of school. Even though the girls have amazing teachers, my role of being their learning coach is not hands off. As the girls take on more responsibilities, they know if they have a question, they can always ask me — but there is always accountability regarding the completion of their lessons in a timely and proper manner. After making it through the first half of the year with Wisconsin Connections Academy, things started falling into place.”
“Stick it out! After a while, you’ll start seeing how much your student is enjoying learning at home with you. I also recommend getting active in online groups and connecting with other parents.”
“It is challenging, but not so much that you shouldn’t consider it. After what we all went through last year, I think many people have looked at schooling differently, and I know that our family would NEVER have considered this if we weren’t in a position where we were forced to by having our son at home all the time. Seeing our son enjoy school and play a more active role in his education has been so rewarding.”
This story was the collaboration of Cally Ehle, Stoughton, Wis. (Wisconsin Connections Academy); Megan Hernandez, Santa Rosa, Calif. (California Connections Academy); Holly Estep, Canal Winchester, Ohio (Ohio Connections Academy); Lakeita Mitchell, Detroit, Mich. (Michigan Connections Academy); and Tracy Colmenero, Gordon, Tex. (Texas Connections Academy).
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