Charter cyber schools continue to open their doors to families in Montgomery County – Timesherald

As COVID variants remain relevant, more families are once again seriously considering virtual schooling options for their children. The difference this time around is that families already had, from spring 2020, the opportunity to assess first-hand what virtual learning would look like for their children. Virtual learning has been propelled into the limelight as COVID-19 forced brick-and-mortar schools to close their doors and “pivot” to a virtual learning model. School districts worked hard to strengthen a virtual program that was “in progress” or, in many cases, to create one from scratch. Realizing the mountain of challenges schools and districts faced in this situation, officials at the fourteen PA-certified cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania were eager to provide help to anyone willing to take it.

Before the pandemic, families often turned to charter cyber school options, citing reasons such as bullying and safety, academics, travel, athletics and the performing arts, and health. . Today, most parents and children have experienced virtual education and the situation has opened doors for many families who did not realize the benefits their children could gain – or from which they could. perhaps desperately needed – through e-learning.

Dr Rich Jensen, CEO of the King of Prussia’s Agora Cyber ​​Charter School, was delighted to see virtual education at the forefront, but he points out that comparing virtual education models is not always right. apple to apple.

“While the debate over the importance of a cyber school offering has been settled, not all cyber school offers are the same,” Jensen said. “A charter cyber school like Agora has been training students continuously for 16 years, so we have an understanding of what works. We have had the opportunity to continually evaluate and refine our processes. We congratulate the districts and families who were put in a difficult situation and made the most of a very difficult situation last school year.

Over time, Agora has learned that educating students synchronously – that is, through live classroom interactions – is best for her student body. Over 85% of enrolled students spend each day in live online classes where they interact with their teachers and students, participate in discussions, and learn from peers located across Pennsylvania.

Respecting this coherent, quality and open communication, Agora created a family coach program 12 years ago. This program offers an additional layer of support to families navigating the e-education journey. Family coaches are located regionally throughout the state and they work to bridge the gap between teachers, school, and families.

“At Agora, multiple lines of communication are open at all times,” Jensen said. “Families can reach teachers by email, phone, private chat boxes during class and during office hours. Family coaches play a crucial role in making sure everyone is on the same page.

Dr Jim Hanak, executive director of the Public Cyber ​​Charter School Association (PCCSA) and CEO of the West Chester-based PA Leadership Charter School (PALCS), believes that after two decades of experience, the mechanisms in place in cyber charter schools invariably promote student success. “As long as students turn on their computers, charter cyber schools have very robust delivery systems for learning platforms that make it easy to stay in touch with students,” Hanak said. “Any student can come and experience success, even if they are struggling. In addition, students have multiple opportunities to help master the material. For example, we give them back over four hours a day of non-teaching time wasted in brick and mortar schools, which can be used to hone their study skills and excel.

PA Virtual Charter School, which, along with Agora and PALCS, is part of the PCCSA, has seen several Norristown families succeed in their online learning environment. An example is Becca Grassi, an avid horse riding enthusiast. Becca was enrolled in a small private school for the first six years of her educational career. When the pandemic hit, her school went virtual and she thrived. She was better able to concentrate on her studies while staying in touch with her friends. It also gave her extra time to ride and engage in an activity that she loved and found stimulating.

One of only two students to remain virtual when the other students returned, it was difficult for Becca’s teacher to manage both classroom and virtual instruction simultaneously. “Becca actually helped guide their online efforts, find software, and make people feel connected,” said Becca’s mother, Jamie Grassi. When the school decided to remove the virtual option, the Grassis went looking for another option and found PA Virtual, based in King of Prussia.

“I didn’t know much about Cyber ​​School before COVID, however, when I saw how Becca excelled, I knew Cyber ​​School could continue to function,” Jamie said. “Becca is enjoying this new experience even more than she thought she would. She has been biking twice a week throughout the fall, participating in school gatherings and clubs and has much more free time. .

The Grassi have chosen the synchronous option, which means that Becca attends the lessons live every day. Becca and her mom agree: her school experience is better than it’s ever been.

“We already live in a virtual world,” Becca said. “This is how children communicate these days. We are still able to stay socially active and connected, but in a school environment with fewer distractions. Friends still share misconceptions that students are free to do whatever they want, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In addition, we don’t have a shuttle, we don’t have to deal with transportation problems, and we have even more opportunities.

Before the pandemic, Wyatt Wales, an elementary school student drove to school in Phoenixville, which meant getting on a bus at 6:45 a.m. and not returning home until after 5 p.m. each day. On top of that, he was having trouble at his brick and mortar school, and his mother, Dawn Wales, could see how unhappy he was. He was struggling with the learning style, and just when the family thought it was time to look for something new, COVID struck. Their school switched to a virtual model and Dawn immediately noticed a change in Wyatt. The change was so quick that she knew she had to look at permanent virtual options. It was then that she turned to PA Virtual.

“Wyatt was much more comfortable at home and it relieved almost all of his stress,” said Dawn. “I knew I wanted to find a school that had been teaching virtually for a long time, and it was amazing to see Wyatt take ownership of his learning and thrive. If he didn’t understand a question, he asked his teachers. In addition, the soft skills he learns, such as time management, will be invaluable for his future education.

Since Dawn and her husband are working, synchronous classes are crucial and Wyatt is in a place where he knows what he needs to do to be successful. He also established excellent relationships with his teachers.

“The pandemic has forced virtual education to the fore, which should have happened already,” Dawn continued. “Wyatt’s structure of the day is so much better now, and he’s preparing for every class like he’s in high school.” In addition, he participates in school activities and is always active in our local scouts, so he also enjoys the social component he needs.

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