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The Advantages of a Virtual Education

Who can resist the appeal of learning with this little face close by?
Who can resist the appeal of learning with this little face close by?
Emily L. Goodman

A virtual education isn’t for everyone. There are many children who attend brick and mortar schools every day and love them. They have friends there. They have teachers that they like, curriculums that work for them, programs that they adore. They excel there.

But there are children that a traditional brick and mortar education just doesn’t work for. For those students, a virtual school has many advantages that a brick and mortar school simply can’t offer. For example:

At a virtual school, there are no bullies. Teachers are present during quite literally every classroom interaction that students have with one another. Parents are copied on every email that a child receives through the school. Teachers observe “chats” during class sessions, and they are highly intolerant of any potential bullying. It’s easy to put a stop to it, too: they take away the bully’s “tools,” or their ability to communicate, and immediately render them incapable of doing anything that might hurt another student. Physical bullying is literally nonexistent, because it’s very, very difficult to hit someone, pinch someone, or step on someone from the other side of a computer screen.

Kids can go to school during the hours when they are best able to learn. Some children simply do not function well early in the morning. They drag themselves very slowly out of bed and only gradually wake up and start doing anything that resembles working. Forcing these students to sit in a classroom at eight in the morning, often asking them to complete complex math or reading assignments, means that they will absorb little to nothing. Other students are morning people: they bounce out of bed ready to learn immediately. Ask them to complete work after lunch, however, and it’s like pulling teeth. They are slow, sluggish, and what makes it past their mental blocks and into their brains is much less than many teachers would prefer.

In a virtual school setting, students can complete their work during the hours when they are most capable of it. Certainly, they must attend class connect sessions when they are “live” (though many offer the option to listen to recordings later, students still benefit most from actually attending class when the teacher is present); but the bulk of their work can be done during the hours when they are most productive.

This is particularly valuable for a child who may be struggling with an illness: if they wake up feeling unwell, they can work in the afternoon; and if they feel ill in the afternoon, they can put work aside for the next morning. They also have the ability to schedule school around doctor’s appointments, rather than the other way around—which means that they are not consistently missing vital lessons in order to take care of their health.

Virtual school students can learn at their own pace. A struggling learner can take the time necessary to focus on a new concept until it is mastered. They can go over material again and again, until they’re ready to move on to the next concept, instead of being dragged along with a class that is well ahead of their current point of mastery. This is particularly valuable for students from low-performing schools and even districts, who may never before have had the advantage of one-on-one instruction from a competent instructor. They are able, for the first time, to truly grasp concepts that might have been previously elusive. This does take time. It doesn’t happen overnight. But over months and years with a virtual school program, these children are able to develop the foundation for solid learning that may last them for the rest of their lives.

Conversely, a student who is ready to move on to the next lesson can do so without needing to repeat the material along with a slower-learning class. To someone who has never struggled with this issue, it may seem irrelevant; but it is not for nothing that gifted children fall under the children with disabilities act. They are underrepresented, and, because they excel in a traditional school setting with little to no effort, they are often ignored. Consider, however, how much more these children could accomplish if they were removed from the boredom and drudgery of a traditional school day and permitted to work at their own pace. How much more could they accomplish—and how much less trouble would they get into as a result?

Virtual school students don’t lose chunks of their day to “routine.” In a traditional brick and mortar school, students spend a great deal of their time simply waiting. They go to the bathroom when the rest of their class goes to the bathroom, even when they don’t have to go. They spend time lining up. They spend time waiting for the rest of the class to settle down. They spend time waiting for the teacher to take care of paperwork. Out of a seven and a half hour day, how many hours each day are spent in activities that have nothing whatsoever to do with education?

A virtual education removes all of those activities. There is no waiting in line, no standing around, no waiting on the rest of the class to catch up. Virtual students are able to complete their assignments, listen to their teachers’ instructions, and then proceed with the rest of their days. Multiple studies have shown that children need to spend more time outside, more time in active play, more time running and jumping and playing; and yet more and more of teachers’ time is being devoted to paperwork, while students sit at their desks and work their way through mountains of assignments—sometimes necessary, sometimes busy work to keep them occupied while the teacher is handling other tasks. Virtual students can cut through the “stuff” to what’s important, then get outside and play, or engage in creative play inside, or move on to something else—activities that are avoided or even discouraged in a traditional brick and mortar school.

Virtual school parents can monitor their children much more closely. For most parents, it’s not a big deal to send their children off to school every day. Sure, they may have some problems; but those problems are quickly dealt with when the child returns home, and they continue on with their lives.

For a select few, having their child away from the familial nest is a problem.

Students on special diets, whether due to allergies, intolerances, illness, or behavioral issues, may not adhere to them as strictly without Mom looking over their shoulder. In a brick and mortar school, there are always forbidden treats, whether it’s the bag of candy that the teacher uses as a reward system or the coloring-laden cupcakes that another mom purchased for the class party.

Children with behavioral issues are also much easier to monitor at home. No teacher wants to admit that she’d veered completely away from a child’s IEP; and while she may not lie outright, she might refashion events to suit herself. Sure, she told your son that he couldn’t engage in an activity that had previously been deemed acceptable to all parties, or failed to meet his accommodations even when reminded about them; but that doesn’t make it her fault that he threw a rip-roaring fit that ended in the principal’s office…right?

Families with very strict religious practices may also appreciate the ability to monitor all of the things that their students are reading, viewing, and discussing.

Virtual school parents and students have much more documented access to their teachers. Brick and mortar teachers do not log every time a student asks them a question, nor do they answer every question they are asked. Kmails, however, remain in the system forever. Any time a student has a question for a teacher, any time a parent communicates with a teacher, any time a phone call is made between family and teacher, it is documented. There is no way for a teacher to plead ignorance when evidence of a communication is there in black in white, easily accessible by all parties.

A virtual education isn’t for everyone—but for a great many students in the state of Tennessee, it is a very valuable option that should not be denied. It’s not a commitment to be undertaken lightly; but those parents that seek out this opportunity for their students will be relieved to recognize that it is an option that has a number of benefits for their families.

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