Online High School: When ‘Logging In’ Is a Better Fit Than ‘Going To’

online-high-school

Do you have a kid who thrived with online learning during the big COVID closure? Is the idea of going “back” to school now not as palatable? Is online high school maybe an idea moving forward for your student?

Spring 2020’s abrupt “end” to traditional school came so quickly, we just didn’t know what to do. At first, it was like “school was over!” It really wasn’t though. After the initial novelty of “no school for the rest of the year” wore off, most kids were bummed. The reality of not being able to see friends, play sports, eat in the cafeteria, and all the things that make up the school experience started to sink in.

The education part is only a part of school. But some kids learned that they preferred a school experience that looked very different.

Before COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of most of the nation’s schools, most parents never considered what remote learning looked like. They never considered that kids might actually still learn from the kitchen table. Most parents probably never imagined that their kid could actually thrive online instead of in a classroom. But for some families, the COVID closure was an eye-opener.

Learning Remote Learning While… Remote Learning

There are a host of adjectives to describe my own family’s experience with remote learning this spring. I’ll just go with “enlightening” for the purposes of this article.

I’ll also preemptively admit that the transition was easier for us than most. Luckily, I only work part-time and always remotely anyway. I’m fully aware that this is a luxury many families don’t enjoy. I understand that family work dynamics might heavily influence educational choices for most families moving forward. And while I anticipate that my kids will likely return to their public school when it fully reopens, I did learn quite a bit about each of my children and how they learn best.

Situation One: The Tinkerer

My oldest is a creative and bright kid, and a “tinkerer” by nature. But he struggles mightily with organizational skills. This spring, he earned the highest grades he’s ever seen in middle school. It turns out he learns quickly and pretty much understands everything. His grades were directly impacted by his inability to meet deadlines and remember to turn things in.

Enter an online format where assignments were posted in Google Classroom, and there was nothing to miss or lose. This setup made it easier for him to quickly see what was due, track his own progress, and turn things in right when he finished them. Boom. Done.

There was no moment when the teacher said what the homework was, but he was thinking about building his rockets. There was no instance when the teacher told everyone to turn in their work, but he couldn’t remember where he put it. I, too, appreciated being able to see all of his assignments and know what he had due — a luxury most parents lose when kids transition from elementary to middle school and the communication gets cut off for the parents.

Yes. I hovered during the remote learning, but boy did enjoy that feeling of actually being in the loop again!

For kids who struggle with executive functioning and have parents who appreciate a little more oversight of what’s going on, the online format definitely presents some advantages.

Situation Two: Get ‘Er Done

My younger son is a really smart kid who will always opt for the shortest route to the finish line. And as such, remote learning turned out to be a hit for other reasons. In his words, “I like it because you don’t have to wait for the rest of the class to finish. I can finish math class in, like, 10 minutes instead of 45 and then have more free time.”

This kid discovered that for pre-recorded lectures “you can speed up the playback to 1.5 or 1.75 — depending on how slow your teacher talks — and the lesson takes a lot less time.” He approaches schoolwork with the attitude of Jeff Foxworthy. Let’s just “get ‘er done.” And he did get it done with straight A’s and somehow did so spending less than 2 hours a day on his schoolwork.

We’ll not talk about how much time he then spent on the XBox each day. But quarantine rules apply, right?

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In his defense, I get it. It is painful for some of these kids to sit in class and listen to half hour lectures that could have easily been delivered in 10 minutes but for the fact that the teacher has to present it in 6 different ways to meet all the different learning styles, repeat it for the ones who didn’t understand, redirect misbehavior, issue a bathroom pass, and then answer 18 questions that some kids can already answer.

I’m not faulting the teachers. I WAS a teacher. I get it. But it is devastatingly frustrating to a student when you JUST WANT TO MOVE ON ALREADY! Online learning offers a huge opportunity to be more in control of the pace of your own learning. For some kids, this could mean learning WAY more in the same amount of time. For other kids, it might just mean more time on the Xbox and his bike. Ultimately either option probably results in a happier, healthier, and less frustrated kid who enjoys learning more.

Can It… Stay This Way?

Learning styles aside, there could be other reasons that online learning would be preferable to some students. The reality is that some kids simply don’t enjoy school. Whether it’s the bullying, the not-fitting-in, the pressure and anxiety, there are lots of reasons some kids would simply prefer to learn from home and then engage in social activities with only a core group of friends. I have a friend whose kid is hoping COVID lasts until he graduates; he’s been living his best life in quarantine.

So where does the online learning experience leave families who may now realize that it could be a better fit than traditional school?

Enter the Online High School

I’m not suggesting this is the only option. It’s not. Especially this year, many (if not most) school divisions will be offering up some options for 100% remote learning while still being enrolled as a regular student at that school. But moving forward post-COVID, those remote learning options may not exist within the “regular” public school system. There is also, of course, traditional homeschool.

I could write pages and pages about the many variations of traditional homeschool. But what I’m talking about here is being a student in an actual high school – an accredited one – that just happens to be virtual. While there is always a physical address for the purposes of documentation and administration, the school teachers and administrators could be working from around the country – or the globe. You have classmates, but they may be living in 26 different states – or countries. Some online high schools even offer annual in-person events like prom and graduation.

There are dozens (if not hundreds) of online high school options and I would anticipate that this number would continue to rapidly increase in light of the forced realization that our society needs to be online-adaptable. Like colleges, each online high school has its own specialities and personality. You need to do your research.

Considerations

Is it accredited? I would only consider an online high school that is regionally accredited. This means it is accredited by one of the Associations for Colleges and Schools. (Acronym ends in ACS – for example, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the Western Association for Colleges and Schools, the Middle States Association for Colleges and Schools etc.) Don’t get bamboozled and fall for schools that are accredited by what SOUNDS like a fancier, more prestigious accrediting agency. The regional ACS accreditation is the one you want.

Does it offer the caliber of coursework your kid needs? Being “college prep” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a rigorous curriculum. If your kid envisions attending a selective college in the future, you need to choose an online high school that utilizes some of the nationally recognized programs for college prep work. Look for a program that offers AP, IB, Cambridge, or a partnership where actual college coursework and credit is offered.

Is your student an athlete? If your kid is potentially an NCAA contender be sure to select a school whose courses are NCAA D1 and D2 approved. Not sure? Ask NCAA.

What does the school profile look like? It should be posted on the school website, but if it’s not then ask for it. The profile should show you things like the average SAT scores for its most recent classes, the colleges recent graduates have gone on to attend, and some information about its faculty (how many have advanced degrees, average years of experience teaching, etc.). These stats will give you a sense of who is teaching your kid, what typical outcomes might be, and also the “classmates.” While interaction looks different with online schools, it still exists.

Essentially, you’re helping to “choose the company” your kid keeps. Select a school that looks like one in which your particular kid will thrive.

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What’s the format? Are you looking for synchronous or asynchronous learning? Some schools are just asynchronous, some are just synchronous and still others are a combo. Make sure you know not just WHAT courses will be delivered but also HOW. Be sure it’s a good match for your needs and expectations.

Does the school employ a school counselor who is readily available to assist your student? Just as in a regular public high school, kids in online high school should have access to a school counselor for a host of reasons, not the least of which include both mental health counseling and college/career counseling.

Does the school offer socialization opportunities? This may or may not be important to you. Many online high school students are still very involved in their community activities or sports. They wouldn’t need additional social opportunities through the online high school. But if your kid is not particularly involved in your community or athletics, does the online school offer virtual socialization opportunities for classmates?

How much is this going to cost me? Many of the highly reputable online high schools aren’t cheap. The tuition for some rival what you’d pay for college tuition. They are, after all, private high schools. I hate to be cliche, but the adage “you get what you pay for” does apply to online education. Just do your research. Know what your budget is and find the best fit for both your needs and budget.

Finding The Right School

Don’t know where to begin? You can easily just begin with a broad search of “online high schools” and start down that rabbit hole. But if you want a shortcut, here are a few of my favorites (each for different reasons and different students) where you can begin to get a feel for what’s out there:

Laurel Springs School
Penn Foster High School
Keystone School
Brigham Young’s Independent Study
James Madison High School
Forest Trail Academy

SCV is working on a more extensive list of online high schools, and we’ll be sure and link that section here once we’ve published it.

Whether or not you choose to continue online learning with your kid, hopefully the forced move to virtual instruction this past year forced many to reframe their understanding of “school.” At both the high school and college level, there has for far too long been too narrow a definition of education.


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