Because her husband's military career kept the family on the move, Patti Joubert -- the mother of two full-time students at Florida Virtual School (FLVS) -- always homeschooled her daughters. Now that they're in high school, Joubert wanted to find a more resource-enriched alternative.
"[Online schools] offer extra classes that aren't necessarily in a regular school," says Joubert, citing supplemental foreign language courses as an example. "The technology they're getting access to, the course content, the teachers. It's nice to just sit back and be the parent again."
Contrary to the assumption that online learning means replacing teachers with computers -- or simply saving money by increasing class sizes -- Joubert argues that virtual school allows students and teachers to work more closely together. "Students still talk with their teachers; you might even say they talk more. When I was in school, you didn't have many one-on-one conversations with your teachers. Your teachers spoke to you, they didn't speak with you. Here, they do oral exams, they talk with the kids, they really get to know each student."
Q: Do you think your children are receiving a different education at a virtual school than when they were homeschooled?
A: I do, because of the way the courses are presented. Of course, I'm not a teacher; homeschooling parents rarely are, unless they have a bachelor's or a master's degree in education. The way they present the lessons at FLVS and the technology and resources they provide are better than I could have offered. Both of my daughters are exceeding my expectations; they're taking honors courses. I can offer a course, but it certainly wouldn't be an honors course.
Q: What are the benefits of online learning for your family? Are there any drawbacks?
A: I haven't found any challenges, really. I've just found a lot of great things about it. My husband was in the military, and even after we came to live permanently in Florida, he worked weekends. He only had days off at different times during the week. By having this type of learning, we are able to still have a family life. We have the ability to travel when we want to and choose our time. You can't do that in traditional schools. Our kids have had the opportunity to go places and see things that other students don't get to.
Also, for kids that have any type of medical problem, if they lose time out of traditional school because they get sick, they don't have the opportunity to excel. One of my daughters has juvenile diabetes, but she's two grades ahead already. With online learning, when you get it, you can move on. When you don't get it, you can get extra tutoring help and teachers will walk you through it. If you're sick for a couple of days, you can do your work over the weekend when you feel better. You're not missing anything.
Of course, it depends on how dedicated a child is to his or her work. My kids are very self-paced because they've always been homeschooled, but I think if a child was not so motivated, it would be a bit of a challenge to keep up.
Q: Are your children able to work or socialize with other students at all? Do they feel isolated?
A: In all the courses they've taken so far, they've had assignments where they pair up with another student and do a project together. It's a good experience -- they're learning how to overcome the challenges of working with someone else and to interact with other kids. Just because you don't "see" someone doesn't mean you're not interacting.
There are also plenty of online clubs at FLVS, such as the newspaper club or the science club. And online learning allows my girls more free time to interact outside of school as well, so they're always volunteering and participating in community activities. Although it's hard for FLVS teachers and students to get together in person because we're located all across the state and we're such a big state, at least once a year, we do a Barnes & Noble Book Fair where students can go to whatever Barnes & Noble is closest to where they live and meet at least some of their teachers.
Q: Could online learning be valuable for other students and families?
A: I have nieces and nephews who go to college and they are offering online courses in college. This is technology that kids will have to learn. Plus, businesses are doing it too: I recently worked for HP as a sales rep, and we were located all across the country, we didn't have an office. I would go into businesses and train their workers and so forth and the way we had meetings and trainings was online. It's important to learn how to self-pace and do these kinds of courses; I think it's as much of a learning experience just taking the course as it is learning what the course teaches.
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