Microschools, hybrid options, and online classes: Education during COVID and beyond

Microschools, hybrid options, and online classes: Education during COVID and beyond

Microschools, hybrid options, and online classes: Education during COVID and beyond 

 

By Eric Wearne 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the afternoon of Monday, July 20—just a few weeks before schools would normally be opening—the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta announced that their schools would in fact all be opening for live classes in August. The Superintendent’s statement suggests “…the benefits of in-person instruction, compared with remote delivery, far outweigh the possible risks involved.” Families uncomfortable with in-classroom instruction may choose online instruction, following individual school plans.   

Just a few hours before the announcement from the Archdiocese, Gwinnett County Public Schools—the largest public school system in the state—announced that they would be starting the school year completely online. Though the system had announced earlier that it would give parents the choice between in-person and online learning, the most recent statement says, “The current COVID-19 situation required a change in those plans.” This has led to significant online anger and multiple protests at the system’s central office.

Both the Catholic Archdiocese schools and Gwinnett County Public Schools say they based their decisions following federal and state health guidelines and the advice of medical and educational experts. Why, then, such opposing decisions from the two school systems? Are the health guidelines contradictory? Are the Archdiocese and Gwinnett cherry-picking the medical and educational experts they listen to?     

Likely none of the above. What we may instead be seeing is simply that smaller entities can be more nimble. And that larger entities would be well-advised to do what they can to learn from that agility. 

At an event earlier this month, the founder of the growing microschool network Prenda, Kelly Smith, suggested that an important lesson all school systems might learn from smaller organizations—especially given the large health, economic, and educational issues presented by the pandemic—is  that they should accept and in fact facilitate more segmentation among their constituents. This may be particularly true for public school systems like Gwinnett, which encompasses a relatively large geographic area and serves over 180,000 students in 141 different schools. Many students would benefit from more choices in schooling even under completely normal circumstances. At a time when everyone’s circumstances are even more unique and individualized because of the differential impact of the pandemic on families, more flexibility is even more important.

A major complication in this debate is that the reasons families want to return to school vary so much.  That is, for some families, the dynamics of learning at home simply do not work well. As examples, some families have students with special needs who require particular kinds of attention. Some families must work outside the home to survive financially. (A number of services are cropping up around Gwinnett County and elsewhere to facilitate online learning or simply childcare, set up by gyms, YMCAs,  performing arts centers, or other places that are typically not full during the school day. While this is an example of civil society and the market responding to fill a need, it comes at a cost—sometimes a few hundred dollars per month, which many families cannot afford). 

Some believe any school openings for face-to-face learning means the school/system will not adapt no matter what circumstances arise and that such decisions are consigning people to die.  Of course that is not true. The Archdiocese of Atlanta and other private and public schools who are offering face-to-face schooling will continue to monitor schools and said they will close down quickly if necessary.

It is too early to know whether opening schools in-person will lead to a worse health crisis, or keeping them online will lead to even worse economic and psychological crises.  Other creative solutions, like moving as many classes as possible outdoors, or operating on a hybrid home school-style schedule (2-3 days per week) might be worth exploring to a greater extent than they have been so far. 

One thing both public and private schools should absolutely do in this moment is learn to be more responsive to smaller groups of constituents, rather than imposing singular, large-scale solutions.  Families must, one way or another, find their way through this school year. They are already building solutions for themselves, outside of the constraints of their school systems. Legislators in Colorado, among other states, are considering whether to fund families directly in response to school closures. School leaders need to adapt, quickly, or risk being left behind.

 

Eric Wearne is a faculty member in the Education Economics Center at Kennesaw State University.

He is also the author of Little Platoons: Defining Hybrid Home Schools in America, forthcoming from Lexington Books. Learn more about Eric. 

EVERY CHILD WITH ACCESS TO A QUALITY EDUCATION

 

A quality education is key to a child’s future success. Academic achievement paves the way to a good job, self-sufficiency, and the earned success we all want for our children. To learn more about education options in Georgia click here

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How Can I Support My Child’s Virtual Teachers This School Year?

How Can I Support My Child’s Virtual Teachers This School Year?

How Should I Prepare My Child for Virtual Schooling?

 

By Jennifer K. Hale 

 

“Supporting virtual teachers is just as important as supporting traditional classroom teachers and making the connection with the virtual teacher will be key to your student’s success.”

Making the swap from brick-and-mortar schooling to a virtual setting might be a challenge for some families. In fact, it may seem daunting. But with a few simple tips and reminders, families can make virtual schooling feel as normal and natural to the family lifestyle as traditional school ever was.

 

There is one crucial factor that makes a student successful in the virtual setting—an involved parent or learning coach. After years as an educator, the last seven of those at a virtual school, I know for certain that the students who adapt to virtual schooling, achieve high grades and test scores, and make advancements in their education are those who have a support system at home to help them and encourage them. This is true of a traditional brick-and-mortar school setting as well, but it is especially vital in the virtual setting. Because the teachers, faculty, and administration have physical barriers in the virtual setting, it is imperative that the student have someone in the home environment who can serve as their support system, advocate, and daily encouragement.

 

Not only is this support system key for the student, it helps the teachers as well. Supporting virtual teachers is just as important as supporting traditional classroom teachers and making the connection with the virtual teacher will be key to your student’s success.

 

One of the main things you can do as the new school year begins is remember to treat the virtual teacher with the same respect that you would a traditional classroom teacher. These are professionals, trained and certified in the exact same way as traditional classroom teachers. Most, if not all, have been traditional classroom teachers at some point in their careers. In fact, in many school districts, the virtual teachers will actually be the classroom teachers who are now moving to virtual platforms due to the pandemic. Be respectful of their knowledge, passion, and drive to see your student succeed.

 

So what else can you, as a parent and learning coach, do to support your student’s virtual teachers?

 

  • Read all emails and communications. Pay attention to details, updates, deadlines, expectations, and requirements.

 

  • Set calendar reminders for yourself to help remind your student about important deadlines, etc.

 

  • Communicate with the teachers frequently. Don’t be afraid to send an email or pick up the phone to ask clarifying questions.

 

  • Learn the virtual platforms. This may seem overwhelming but learning at least enough to check your student’s gradebook and communicate with the teacher will go a long way. Parent training on this should be provided by your school district.

 

  • Check regularly to make sure your student is logging in and completing work on time.

 

  • Check your student’s gradebook weekly, at minimum.

 

  • Attend any online open houses, orientations, and/or parent conferences. Take the opportunity to get to know your student’s teacher.

 

  • If you want to show appreciation like you occasionally would in the traditional classroom, send the teacher a kind email, voice message, or even a gift card via email.

The greatest thing you can do to support the virtual teacher is show patience. Parents feel uncertainty right now and have many questions. Teachers have these same feelings and questions. Some teachers face the same issues that you do—how to work while their own children are home and educating virtually, how to balance the work/family dynamic, and how to live day to day in a nation swirling with insecurity. Showing patience as we move forward together sets a wonderful example of resilience and bravery for our students.

 

Teachers who are passionate about their profession will meet the challenges of educating virtually in a pandemic with courage and ingenuity. They will create engaging, exciting lessons for your student and will do everything in their power to form relationships with your child, exactly as they would in a traditional classroom.

 

Take the time to reach out with any questions and concerns, but your encouragement is also appreciated. Let your student’s teacher know how much you appreciate their hard work and preparation for a challenging school year that will certainly turn out to be historic. Make a commitment now with your student and the teacher to work together to make the virtual education experience exciting, engaging, and an integral part of your child’s development.

 

Virtual education was once a wonderful option for families, but in this pandemic has become a requirement for many who weren’t expecting it. We’re all learning together and a positive attitude will go farther than anything else. We teachers encourage you to take advantage of this time in our history to make memories with your child so that one day they will look back on this time not remembering what they “missed” by not being in a traditional classroom, but what they gained by having the opportunity to learn virtually. Certainly history will reflect that the option of virtual schooling provided a nation of students the education they needed in a time when caution was most important.

 

Jennifer K. Hale is an Assistant Principal at Georgia Cyber Academy High School. She is passionate about student success through high quality teaching and best practices. Originally a history teacher, she is also passionate about helping students to become active, knowledgeable citizens of our nation.

 

 

EVERY CHILD WITH ACCESS TO A QUALITY EDUCATION

 

A quality education is key to a child’s future success. Academic achievement paves the way to a good job, self-sufficiency, and the earned success we all want for our children. To learn more about education options in Georgia click here

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What Your Virtual Teacher Wants You To Know

What Your Virtual Teacher Wants You To Know

How Should I Prepare My Child for Virtual Schooling?

 

By Jennifer K. Hale 

 

It is a different world. Things are changing daily; numbers, statistics, and educated guesses are becoming the norm. It is in this climate that we are attempting to educate a nation of children in an unprecedented way—virtually.

 

Many states have had virtual schools for some time now, but not many states have attempted virtual education through large school districts all at one time like we are seeing in our nation as we approach a new school year. Each district has different plans and expectations, but all have the same goal—to give your student the highest quality education and help them achieve academic success.

 

As the school year begins, there are some things that your student’s virtual teacher will want you to know, prepare for, and pay attention to. In order for your child to be successful, give these points some careful consideration.

“…all have the same goal—to give your student the highest quality education and help them achieve academic success.”

  • Virtual teachers are real teachers. In most schools, teachers have extensive training, certifications, and degrees in education and content. They continually attend professional development to hone their craft and they are professionals who are passionate about what they do.

 

  • Virtual teachers are still learning. Every day new technology is developed that can help engage your child in exciting lessons and teachers are constantly learning how to implement these tools into the classroom.

 

  • Please read all messages from the teacher carefully. Information is easy to come by if you commit to reading messages, emails, announcements, and communications from your student’s teachers, school, and school district.

 

  • Your child is expected to be in class. Just because the platform might be virtual does not mean that the schedule is flexible. Students need to stay on the schedule set out by the district, school, and teacher.

 

  • Teachers want your support! They need you to be engaged and aware of what’s going on in the virtual classroom so that you can be your student’s support from home.

 

  • Teachers want to communicate with you. They are available to answer your questions and address your concerns—just reach out!

 

  • Students need a calm learning environment free from distractions. When learning virtually, it’s very difficult for teachers to compete with the TV, cell phone, or other distraction at home. Please help keep those to a minimum during learning time.

 

  • Teachers don’t expect perfection—just engagement! Students who show up, try, and make an effort are those who will reflect the most success.

 

  • Virtual education can provide everything your student needs—if your student is willing to take advantage! Relationships can be built in a virtual setting just like in a traditional school and what’s more, your student can form relationships with students and peers they might never had have the chance to know otherwise!

 

  • If your student is struggling, please let the teacher know. Typically your teacher will already be aware, but please don’t hesitate to reach out for extra help, support, and guidance.

 

  • While there are certainly challenges that many families will have to address, don’t forget the advantages of virtual education:

 – Some flexibility in location for your student to learn

–  More quality time at home making family memories

–  Certified teachers who will be teaching your child, no matter if your student is at home    with you or in a childcare setting

–  No parent has to create their own curriculum—it’s all provided by professionals

–  Meeting new people in the virtual classroom they might not have the opportunity to meet otherwise

–  Saving money on school clothes and supplies

–  Exploring classes that might not be offered in a traditional school

–  Learning new technologies via the virtual classroom

Virtual education was once a wonderful option for families, but in this pandemic has become a requirement for many who weren’t expecting it. We’re all learning together and a positive attitude will go farther than anything else. We teachers encourage you to take advantage of this time in our history to make memories with your child so that one day they will look back on this time not remembering what they “missed” by not being in a traditional classroom, but what they gained by having the opportunity to learn virtually. Certainly history will reflect that the option of virtual schooling provided a nation of students the education they needed in a time when caution was most important.

 

Jennifer K. Hale is an Assistant Principal at Georgia Cyber Academy High School. She is passionate about student success through high quality teaching and best practices. Originally a history teacher, she is also passionate about helping students to become active, knowledgeable citizens of our nation.

 

 

EVERY CHILD WITH ACCESS TO A QUALITY EDUCATION

 

A quality education is key to a child’s future success. Academic achievement paves the way to a good job, self-sufficiency, and the earned success we all want for our children. To learn more about education options in Georgia click here

Children excited as they leave school

How Should I Prepare My Child for Virtual Schooling?

How Should I Prepare My Child for Virtual Schooling?

How Should I Prepare My Child for Virtual Schooling?

 

By Jennifer K. Hale 

 

Many of us got a little taste of what virtual schooling could feel like back in the spring when the spread of Covid-19 forced nationwide school building closures and a shift to virtual education. At that time, our nation’s educators faced a mountain of challenges: lack of information, lack of understanding of virtual platforms and how to make them work for students, lack of preparation, and for many students, a lack of reliable internet or computer resources in the home. Parents faced a lack of education themselves while also confronting issues with childcare. The shift came without much warning and the unpreparedness teachers felt was not their fault. Many veteran virtual educators came together to develop resources to help new online teachers become successful.

Students got a taste of virtual education in the spring as well, but as we prepare to return to school in the fall, the expectations of virtual education will be different and you should prepare your child for the changes and enhancements they will see in the virtual setting.

The key to preparing our students to have a successful school year is in how you present the information. Your student will react to your attitude, so the more excitement and enthusiasm you show, the more likely your student is to feel the same way. Positivity is key when facing a new challenge. What a wonderful thing it is that we live in a time when virtual education is an option to keep our nation going during a pandemic!

Here are some things that you and your student should know:

  • Teachers have received more virtual education training. At this point, brick and mortar school teachers have had and continue to receive training about virtual platforms and tools and how to use them.
  • Administrators have developed a detailed plan. Students and teachers have been virtually paired together with intention and scheduling has been taken into consideration.
  • Teachers are now aware of more resources to help build a strong virtual classroom and are adding new resources daily.
  • Platforms for live teaching have been purposefully obtained by school districts. Live sessions will be held on a schedule and with the purpose of live instruction.
  • Successful virtual schooling requires support from parents and learning coaches.

So what should you do as a parent to help your student prepare?

  • Once you have your student’s schedule, go over it with your child. Make sure your child knows when to log into live sessions. Set alarms, write it out and post it somewhere close to the schoolwork space, etc. As a parent, you’ll also need to look at your own schedule, childcare plans, and create a calendar that supports your student. Keep in mind virtual schooling will require student attendance and participation daily.
  • Create a workspace at home with minimal distractions. Keep the TV off and the phone put away when students are working on schoolwork. This is absolutely vital for student engagement.
  • Get your student excited about live sessions! Remind them that they will be able to talk to their teacher and engage with their peers, similarly to how they would in a traditional classroom.
  • Communicate with teachers regularly. Read all emails from teachers and be aware of expectations, plans, and updates. This is key to your student’s success.
  • Discuss expectations with your child. Virtual schooling may be challenging for some—learning on the computer is certainly not what they are used to. Talk about why it’s important to pay attention to the teacher, complete work on time, participate in class, and treat virtual education just as seriously as they would if they were in the traditional classroom.
  • Create moments of rest and fun. During breaks from class, make sure your student is up and moving around, getting proper hydration and nourishment, and taking breaks from screen time.
  • Be realistic. We live in uncertain times and plans change from day to day. Give yourself and your student grace and praise for getting through each day and accomplishing daily tasks.

Prepare your child for virtual education by encouraging them with positivity about the situation. Make the new schedule exciting. While you might not be shopping for back to school clothes or lunch boxes, make virtual schooling just as fun in other ways—new school supplies for home, allowing them to decorate their workspace and color their own calendar, etc. Allow your student to choose their “first day of school” outfit for their first day of live classes on camera and help them feel excited about the new way the nation is learning. Remind them they are not alone—millions of children across the country will be learning virtually this fall.

We’re all in this together. Thanks to technology, our children can continue their education with qualified teachers uninterrupted. With gratitude we can take on a whole new view of our current situation and the outlook of our nation. While tomorrow may be unknown, the future is still bright for our students.

Jennifer K. Hale is an Assistant Principal at Georgia Cyber Academy High School. She is passionate about student success through high quality teaching and best practices. Originally a history teacher, she is also passionate about helping students to become active, knowledgeable citizens of our nation.

 

  

EVERY CHILD WITH ACCESS TO A QUALITY EDUCATION

A quality education is key to a child’s future success. Academic achievement paves the way to a good job, self-sufficiency, and the earned success we all want for our children. To learn more about education options in Georgia click here

Children excited as they leave school

Education in a COVID-19 Era

Education in a COVID-19 Era

Education in a COVID-19 Era

 

by Sam Gaby

As we continue to hear, COVID-19 has changed the education landscape for millions of families across Georgia. Parents have helped their children around the country complete an unprecedented 2019-20 school year, ending with unanticipated virtual schooling. One thing is for certain: this fall will look different than school years of the past. There will be some kids in traditional brick-and-mortar schools, some participating in virtual learning, and others changing their learning styles completely. One of the greatest takeaways of the COVID-19 pandemic – it further revealed a weakness in a “one-size-fits-all” approach to education. 

 

As someone who was homeschooled from  K-12th grade, the transition to virtual college lectures and tests was not a struggle for me. With the flexibility that comes with this schooling choice, I easily managed my schedule and the new freedoms that came with college. I credit my success so far in college to the choice to learn differently. I would not have thrived in public school, so my parents gave me the opportunity to learn in a home environment with additional tools and resources. 

 

Homeschooling is not the right option for all children, nor is it right for all family dynamics. Some lower-income families may not have the resources to support a homeschool education or any other education style other than public school. However, the point still stands: everyone learns differently and needs to have the option and financial support to choose the right learning environment for success. Public schools, private schools, online learning, charter schools, and homeschooling should be options for everyone – no matter their circumstances.  

As schools begin to open up, we should be asking ourselves whether or not individual public schools are ready to take on the challenge of hybrid learning. Some counties in Georgia are giving parents a choice in online or in-person learning. The school systems need to be incredibly prepared to handle both forms of learning at the same time. 

 

Last spring, there was a sense of chaos as schools frantically tried to transition to virtual learning. Some schools were not able to resume teaching for several weeks or longer. Has the summer break been enough time to adequately prepare schools to handle the mass technological implementations and resources needed to provide millions of students with a quality education? Will parents around the country start to reconsider their options in schooling? Will more, supportive school choice initiatives such as Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) or the Georgia Tax Credit Scholarship Program begin to emerge? Only time will tell, but my hope is that this “COVID-19 Era” brings forth a broader conversation on the importance of options in education.


Sam Gaby is serving as a summer intern for Georgia Center for Opportunity. 

EVERY CHILD WITH ACCESS TO A QUALITY EDUCATION

 

A quality education is key to a child’s future success. Academic achievement paves the way to a good job, self-sufficiency, and the earned success we all want for our children. To learn more about education options in Georgia click here

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Help! Should I Choose Virtual School for My Child?

Help! Should I Choose Virtual School for My Child?

Help! Should I Choose Virtual School for My Child?

 

 

By Jennifer K. Hale 

 

We’re all familiar with the phrase “uncertain times.” We find ourselves there as a nation, as parents, as people. We’re watching history actively develop in 2020 and we don’t know what the fast-approaching school year will bring. As the government puts out its recommendations for education and local school districts develop plans for re-opening schools, many families are trying to decide what to do. 


Should I send my child back to their regular school? Should I choose the virtual option from my local school district? Should I enroll my student in a full-time virtual school outside of my school district? There are so many options!

 

There is also much debate. Looking at social media for any amount of time will give you all the pros and cons of sending your child to school based on medical evidence, opinions and growing concerns of the unknown, so we won’t rehash that here. However, if your child or someone in your family is immune compromised, the virtual option is a fantastic choice to avoid exposure to germs. But for others, the choice isn’t so easy.

 

I’ve been an educator since 2002 and have worked in a full virtual school for the past seven years. Virtual education is new but not “new.” We’ve been refining the craft for over a decade now in Georgia, so let’s address the question of “should I choose the virtual school option for my child?” from the considerations of what virtual schooling offers and what is required. Looking at it pragmatically might help you make your choice.

 

First off, understand that virtual school doesn’t mean “homeschool.” Traditionally, homeschooling means that families choose their own curriculum, set their own schedules, and develop their own methods for learning. Virtual schooling provides accredited curriculum, certified, highly trained teachers, and expectations that mirror most public schools. This means that if your school district is offering a virtual option or you enroll your child in a public charter virtual school, you will have to meet all the same requirements as if your child was in a brick-and-mortar school, including attendance, adherence to school policies, and state testing requirements.

 

What virtual schools can provide (among other things):

  • High quality teachers
  •  Access to all the classes your child needs to stay on track
  • Supportive staff including administrators and counselors
  • Some clubs and after school virtual activities
  • Occasional in-person activities for students (outside of pandemic times)

 

What virtual schools cannot provide:

  • Access to free meals
  • Athletics or performing arts
  • Before or after school childcare
  • Daily in-person socialization

 

If your child has special needs requirements or has an IEP, don’t write off the virtual school option. Public virtual schools will be able to meet those requirements and give your student the support they need. Also, many public virtual schools offer courses for gifted students, and at the secondary level, can provide AP courses and access to dual enrollment. 

 

Here are a few things that are required for virtual students to be successful:

      • Access to reliable internet.
      • A computer or learning device (many schools will provide these).
      • A calm learning space away from as many distractions as possible.
      • A schedule for learning that can be maintained on weekdays (with few exceptions). Keep in mind that virtual schooling does not mean flexibility to decide when your student does their work. They will have a schedule to adhere to.
      • For you as the parent to be involved also as the learning coach.
      • Patience. While some virtual schools have been doing this for a while, not all virtual teachers will be veterans. Patience is key as we all learn how to live in these “uncertain times” while providing your child with a high-quality education.

 

If you’re still struggling to decide what to do, research the virtual options in your area. Make sure you look for accredited schools with certified teachers. You are your child’s best advocate and the only one who can make the best choice for your student and your family. Contact your local school district or virtual school in your state with questions!

 

Jennifer K. Hale is an Assistant Principal at Georgia Cyber Academy High School. She is passionate about student success through high quality teaching and best practices. Originally a history teacher, she is also passionate about helping students to become active, knowledgeable citizens of our nation.

 

  

EVERY CHILD WITH ACCESS TO A QUALITY EDUCATION

 

A quality education is key to a child’s future success. Academic achievement paves the way to a good job, self-sufficiency, and the earned success we all want for our children. To learn more about education options in Georgia click here

Children excited as they leave school