Florida Virtual School (FLVS) students Christianne and Carylanne Joubert are pretty advanced for their age. Christianne, at 13, is already a published novelist; Carylanne, 14, is about to start 11th grade. The Jouberts would probably succeed at any school they attended, but they attribute a large part of their progress to online learning. (And for Carlyanne, who has diabetes, the convenience of doing school work at home is a big advantage.)
The Jouberts, whose father is in the military, requiring the family to travel a great deal, were homeschooled by their mother until recently.
"Online classes are easy to understand. You can move onto the next thing much faster," Christianne says. "I have a friend in regular public school who says that they like FLVS courses better because they don't have to wait around for the other students to get it -- or get frustrated when they don't get it themselves. But it's not easier because it's of a lower quality. The better quality makes it easier."
I chatted with both girls and got a good glimpse into their academic life is like -- flexible, varied, and personalized. It's not the best fit for every kid, of course, but for these students, it works.
Q: Is going to school at FLVS different from being homeschooled?
A: Carylanne: The assignments are different. The courses I took when my mom was teaching me were mostly reading the lessons, getting the information, doing worksheets and exams and that kind of stuff. At FLVS, I write essays, I do PowerPoint presentations and brochures. In my Latin course, I had to pretend I lived in 100 B.C. and write up an invitation and a menu. There are different assignments for those who are more creative. The lessons also show the information in different ways; sometimes there's a visual representation, like a diagram or a video, to help remember it.
Q: What is your typical day like at virtual school?
A: Carylanne: Most days, I'll get up and do my chores around the house and then once I get onto the computer I can just start my lessons, read through the lesson and do the assignment. For me, it's easy. I read through the information and then I can move on to the next assignment. I don't have to wait. I can go ahead and do more, so I get done with the course faster. I get to learn more instead of being bored.
Christianne: I can start at 10 a.m. and end at 4 p.m. and have an entire week's worth of work done. Since I can move faster through school, I have time to explore my passion for writing.
Q: Do you interact much with your teachers?
A: Carylanne: I can call my teacher, or text her, or go into a special chatroom. I talk with my teachers at least twice a month because I do oral exams and monthly calls. I don't usually have to call them because I haven't needed much help, but they are always there when I need them. They've always responded to me within 24 hours.
Christianne: I email my teachers every day. They're very personable. I just finished my English course and my teacher said, 'If you need anything, you can call me,' even though I'm not her student anymore. If you have an issue, if you're not quite getting something, you can email or text your teacher; there are also help buttons on every page if you need extra help on assignments. I get a call from one of my teachers at least once a week asking if I'm doing okay, if I need help. I think you get a better way to talk to teachers [in virtual school]. You get that one-on-one.
Q: What's the best part about virtual school for you?
A: Carylanne: First, of course, I get to travel at whatever pace I want to. If I'm having a bad week, or a bad day with my diabetes, it doesn't matter. I have Monday through Sunday to do my work. The flexibility makes it a lot easier. I just signed up for my first eleventh-grade courses. When I started with the virtual school, it was the summer I turned twelve. I had had a computer for gaming purposes, but I had never really been going on the Internet. [Through FLVS], I learned all different kinds of programs like PowerPoint and Microsoft Publisher and Glogster, a software that helps you create special posters. It gave me a way to learn how to use the different tools so that someday I can use all these things in the workplace.
Q: Do you interact much with other students?
A: Carylanne: There are at least one or two collaboration assignments per course. I found my chemistry course was the easiest one because I was able to find a partner who was willing to work. We use a special chatroom through FLVS. Once, I had a partner who was supposed to meet me in the chatroom at a certain time and they didn't show up, so it was a little bit harder to work with them. Something we're asked a lot is about the lack of socialization being homeschooled or going to virtual school. But I've found that many public school kids seem like they're more shy and have a harder time talking to adults! And with more time on our hands, it's easier to do other activities like volunteering or Girl Scouts or other clubs.
Christianne: I'm in the newspaper club at FLVS. I'm able to have my voice heard and get across what I think is important. We have online meetings every Tuesday through Eluminate Live. We log on and we're in a virtual classroom. We can put things up on a whiteboard like slide shows, presentations, and PowerPoints, and then we have these breakout sessions where we can all work together on things. We send all the articles to each other using Google Docs. It's just like every other school newspaper, we're just online.
Q: Would you recommend virtual school to other students?
A: Carylanne: I've always been homeschooled, so I don't know how public school is, but I like to work at my own pace, just sit in my bedroom and do my homework with no distractions. I've also read statistics that students do better when they are in virtual school -- the grade percentages are higher. Sure, the classrooms are bigger online, but that's helpful when you have to do a collaborative assignment because students could be anywhere in the course. If it does save money [for schools to have online course options], that's good, so you could put more money into the education system. Teachers are still employed, just in a different way.
Christianne: Whenever I meet another kid my age, I always recommend it as another way to do school. Especially for kids who don't have an easy time with homework or with school. I know one kid in my class from England who said it was easier for him than his public school. Plus, I have more time to write; I was able to write a novel because I had enough time. We went through a self publishing company called Xlibris. It's very exciting. I'm working on my second book now. It's already a planned series of four. And after that, I plan on writing another one based on Celtic mythology. I love writing... it's a way to express myself.