For a school that had less than 200 students enrolled for the entire 2011-2012 school year, the Tennessee Virtual Academy has grown by leaps and bounds. With a current enrollment of more than 3,000, it is obvious that the school is doing something to attract parents and students alike—but why? Legislators are concerned with low test scores (though, as previously discussed, current low test scores have little relevance to the performance of the Virtual Academy), but obviously parents have no such concerns. What is the appeal of the Virtual Academy—and who is it helping?
Students with non-traditional learning patterns. These may be students whose parents travel for a living, and who the Tennessee Virtual Academy now allows to travel with their parents. They may also be students with severe medical problems who are not able to attend a traditional classroom every day—or the siblings of those students. Many students who are sick struggle to keep up with their school work with minimal visits from a homebound teacher and classroom teachers who do not understand their difficulties even if they are willing to work with them; virtual schooling allows them to work within their limitations, on the days when they are able to do so.
Students who have been bullied in a traditional school setting. Bullying isn’t always overt, and it isn’t always something a teacher is able to put a stop to. It would be nice if it were that simple; but the reality is, many students are the victim of emotional bullying every day. Teachers notice if a kid is regularly getting hit, or being shoved in a locker, or experiencing other types of physical abuse. On the other hand, they may not notice that the boy who is getting in fights every day is really getting picked on; or they may fail to notice the snide words directed at the girl in the back of the room. Even worse, sometimes teachers inadvertently become bullies, expecting the worst of children who have previously had behavior issues and punishing them accordingly even when their behavior doesn’t necessarily warrant it.
Students who have been left behind. This does not necessarily just mean students who have gotten behind in school, though it certainly does apply to them. It also applies to advanced students who are bored out of their minds in a traditional classroom, many of whom will never meet their full academic potential without a little bit of an extra push. Honors programs in most high schools might help; but students at the far end of the spectrum will be no more appreciative of those, and may well score well below their potential simply out of boredom.
Students with learning disabilities. The sad truth is that too many classrooms are filled to the brim with children, and all of them have different learning styles. Teachers do their best; but they can not alter their teaching style for every student in their classroom all the time. In any given classroom, there may be as many as a dozen students with recognized learning disabilities (and just as many who have not been identified). Most of the time, teachers are lucky if they have one assistant even during their most difficult classes. A virtual learning environment removes many of the problems associated with a traditional classroom and gives much more freedom to the student concerning necessary accommodations.