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Settling in to a New School Year

It Does Eventually Become Routine-slide0
Emily L. Goodman

Given the fact that 626 parents and students fought hard to be allowed into the Tennessee Virtual Academy for the 2014-2015 school year, they should all be overjoyed with this educational opportunity for their children. They’re in; they’re doing it; and they’re able to access all of the materials, supplies, and teacher assistance that make the Tennessee Virtual Academy so appealing. Unfortunately, many parents aren’t feeling quite so grateful.

They’re overwhelmed by the number of class connect sessions. Class connect sessions are online class sessions where students can virtually interact with their teachers, and they’ve been increased drastically in the last couple of years in an effort to help improve student test scores. Many TNVA students are having trouble assimilating to the idea of a self-paced education, and need this extra attention from their teachers. Unfortunately, those class connect sessions can also feel overwhelming, particularly for new families. There’s so much to do during the day already; and now students have no choice but to sit down in front of their computer for an hour at a time and participate in a session, regardless of whether or not they have already completed the lesson.

Class connect sessions have been a point of high contention for quite some time; but what it boils down to is this: they’re the only way teachers can be sure that students are engaging with the material. If they’re present and interacting in class (even if that “interaction” is merely voting in a poll, raising a hand, or asking a question in the chat box), then teachers know that the student is actively engaging in the material. If they’re not, it’s hard to gauge student participation and learning.

Also, parents should keep in mind that not all class connect sessions are mandatory. Some of them are. There are a set number of class sessions each week that are set in stone, and that should not be missed without a doctor’s note (though there’s always the option to listen to recordings later, at least for middle school students). These are the sessions that teachers deem the most important, and should be given the same impact as a child’s physical attendance in school.

There’s just too much to do! This is the second most common complaint, and one that all too many parents experience. They’re looking at the workload, whether that’s in the form of an entire year’s worth of curriculum or a list of everything that must be completed over the course of the week, and the parents are feeling even more overwhelmed than the kids! Between online lessons and class connect sessions, the amount of material that needs to be covered in a week feels overwhelming—and that’s without supplemental activities and study island!

Some of this is the simple misunderstanding that every lesson will take as long as the OLS says it does. It doesn’t—but parents can count it in “lesson time,” just like in college. If it takes longer, then actual time spent on the lesson should be clocked. On the other hand, if your child finishes an hour-long lesson in fifteen minutes, then go for it!

Also, parents often forget that they have the option to change the order in which lessons are done (doing a block of literature lessons together, for example, instead of spreading them out over the course of a week; or completing all of the science for the week at once instead of at the end) or the amount that the student is actually doing. The important part is making sure that they absorb the material—so if they don’t do all of a worksheet every once in a while, it’s okay!

Getting started in the OLS can feel very overwhelming, especially for new parents, and most especially for parents with multiple children enrolled in a homeschooling or online schooling program. However, much of that will resolve itself over the course of the year, as both parents and students become accustomed to the program and to the schedule.