Five Things I Wish I Knew When Considering Online School

Exploring education options outside of traditional brick-and-mortar school can be unchartered territory for many parents. However, after researching and enrolling their child in virtual school, many parents realize that there is a robust support system of teachers and administrators, rigorous curriculum that prepares students for college and many forms of socialization opportunities—all of which leads them to wish they'd made this decision sooner. 

A recently conducted online poll* asked currently enrolled Connections Academy parents and caretakers what they wish they'd known when considering online school, and what information they'd share with parents currently in the decision-making process. Results revealed:

1. The teachers are incredibly involved and helpful

Without seeing teachers face-to-face on a daily basis, some parents had initial concerns that their student wouldn't get the help they needed. 

"I had some concerns about just how accessible teachers would really be to my son if/when he needed them," said Suzan M. of Indiana, whose son is enrolled in a Connections Academy school.  

According to the poll, 98 percent of respondents said Connections Academy met or exceeded expectations when it came to the teacher's involvement in their student's learning.

"Turns out, the teachers are the absolute best part of the program," Suzan said. "They are dedicated, thoughtful people who return emails and phone calls in a very timely fashion. They genuinely care about my son's success and do whatever it takes to give him his best shot at learning." 

Sue S. of Arizona echoed Suzan's sentiment: "The staff is super supportive and encouraging regarding my children's success," she said. "They know my children so much better than the bricks-and-mortar [school] teachers ever did. The teachers care about situations outside of the academic classroom that may impact the learning process." 

2. The curriculum is high quality

According to the poll, 97 percent of parents said their student's success with Connections Academy was the same or better than at their previous school. 

For most parents, finding a school that will prepare their child for college and/or success later in life is the most important aspect to consider when switching schools. 

"When we were first considering [switching] our daughter from traditional school [to virtual school] we were very worried that the curriculum wouldn't stack up to what we were used to," said Summer C., whose daughter is a student with Maine Connections Academy. "We now know that Connections Academy's curriculum not only compares to our local high school, but surpasses it!"

Like Summer, Tami A. in Ohio is also pleased with the quality— "The curriculum is rigorous, and will definitely prepare my son for college," she said.

3. There are many socialization opportunities

Without an in-person classroom, how do students interact and socialize? This is a concern many parents and caretakers share when considering online school. 

"Socialization was definitely a big [reason for] hesitation," said Irene D. of Colorado. 

Since enrolling in Connections Academy, Irene, like many other parents, has been introduced to the socialization opportunities available to her daughter, such as in-person field trips and events. 

"The school provided ample field trips and social meet-ups—it is up to the families to actually attend them if they want to," said Kimberly K. of Nevada. "We do enjoy getting to meet our teachers in person for a more personal connection. There are many times throughout the year where this is possible." 

And students also interact frequently online with their classmates and teachers through LiveLession®—online classroom—sessions. 

"It was wonderful finding out my son would interact with other students in LiveLession® [sessions]; here they discuss literature selections or share their own writing, complete math problems, present science projects, etc., and get feedback from both teachers and peers," said Kurstin H., a parent of a Connections Academy student in North Carolina.

4. The school offers a lot of supportboth when starting out and throughout the year

Parents often wonder what challenges or unexpected hurdles they may face when transitioning to online schoolas well as the level of involvement needed to be their student's Learning Coach as they help to oversee and support online learning at home. 

"I was a little worried about managing three kids learning at home, and I won't pretend that on our first day I didn't think, 'What did I just get myself into?'" said Jonetta C. of Indiana. 

However, 96 percent of poll respondents said that Connections Academy met or exceeded their expectations for the level of support the school provided when they were first getting started. 

As Alicia C. of Michigan discovered, Connections Academy parents are not expected to just "figure things out" on their own. In fact, families have access to a three-part family support program designed to make the learning experience more engaging and rewarding for students and Learning Coaches alike.

"The Learning Coach and student tutorials were awesome—we never felt alone in this journey," Alicia said. "Help is always an email or phone call away, whenever I felt stuck or didn't understand what I needed to do next." 

5. It's free

In the past, personalized education options were often associated with a high price tag. In fact, when first exploring virtual school options for their family, 70 percent of those parents polled were surprised to learn that virtual public schools, like Connections Academy, are tuition-free. 

"When I tell people about virtual school, one of the first things they ask me is, 'How much does it cost?'" said Kristi A. of Kansas. 

"Considering the challenging curriculum and the diversity of the students and meeting their needs, 'free' isn't a bad price at all," she said. "Everyone I have spoken with about it are amazed at this." 

"People feel that if it's free there has to be a catch," Vicky H. in Indiana said. "There [are] ... awesome teachers, fantastic curriculum and no extra cost to the parents!"

Are there other aspects of virtual school that you have questions or concerns about? Sign up for more information and learning tips, and receive a free program guide!

*Quotations from families shared in this piece are from a February 2016 online poll of enrolled Learning Coaches in Connections Academy schools through the online market research panel, Chalk Talk. 

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