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Back to School Tips and Tricks

School SuppliesFall is fast approaching and we are excited to welcome all new and returning students back to PA Virtual. How can parents help make sure students are as prepared as possible and set up for success this school year? Here are a few tips and tricks!

  1. Establish a workspace and schedule for your student: Cyber school can be flexible, but the most successful students establish a schedule and stick to it. Balancing live classes with homework and community, or extracurricular activities takes time, but you can do it! Designating a space where your student can work free of distractions will also help them focus and get back into school mode.
  2. Get involved: Each month PA Virtual’s Family Support Coordinators host events around the state where PA Virtual families can network and socialize. These events are great for students, but also great for parents who can meet other cyber parents and become a part of an engaging support network. This month, our Back to School picnics will bring families together in over a dozen different counties.
  3. Understand the expectations: Cyber school parents can expect to be very hands on when it comes to their online educational experience. This will of course vary by age, but having a basic understanding of the learning management systems (Blackboard) and programs the school uses (Microsoft Word / PowerPoint / Excel) will go a long way when it comes to helping out. PA Virtual challenges students to become more accountable and work independently, but not without some parent guidance!
  4. Ask for help: New to cyber school? We’ve been there! Our Parent Ambassador Program helps out new families by matching them with veteran Learning Coaches, based on their child’s educational needs, grade level and general geographical location. To request a mentor, just fill out this form and our staff will contact you to see how they can help!
  5. Start your day off with a great breakfast: We always hear that breakfast is the most important meal of the day for young students, but parents tend to skip out on breakfast. Treat yourself to some fresh fruit with your morning cup of joe to kick start your day.

Parents – we want you to join the conversation! What tips would you give other parents who are getting ready to go back to school? Let us know in the comments below!

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Posted on: August 31, 2016 by Jennifer Kilpatrick in



Parent Ambassador Program

Parent Ambassadors

When her son was ready to start Kindergarten, Jen Brodhag knew she wanted to find a place where she could give her children a structured curriculum in the comfort of her own home. Critics of cyber education are often teachers who don’t think that the classroom setting can be mimicked in the home. As a former third grade teacher, when Jen learned about PA Virtual she thought otherwise. In addition to an engaging curriculum, she loved how PA Virtual had accountability and support systems of a traditional public school, but she would also have the ability to share learning experiences with her children in her home.

In 2008, former CEO Dr. Joanne Barnett wanted to launch a program that further engaged parents in the cyber setting as a way to connect families all across the state. The school started looking for parents who could share their experiences with new families, and Jen was a perfect fit. Now the Director of Parent Education and Engagement, Jen Brodhag shares what makes PA Virtual’s Education and Engagement Department so unique!

Q: What types of services does your department at PA Virtual provide to its parents and families?

A: The program has grown so much over the years! We are always looking for feedback and ways to expand our engagement efforts, but here are a few things we are excited to roll out for the 2016-2017 school year:

  • New Parent Orientation sessions! These sessions are available online and in person. While these are geared towards news families, sessions are open to any parent who may want a bit of a boost to jump start their school year:
    • First-day-of-school jitters? We’ll help calm those nerves.
    • Get tips and tricks from veteran PA Virtual parents!
    • Attendance and Outings and Tech! Oh, my!online
  • Bank Street College of Education Parent Certificate Program: has created a unique professional development opportunity where PA Virtual parents can enroll and take several courses in Bank Street College’s online program. This program is designed to increase parents’ understanding of educational content, theory, and application to directly enhance instruction and achievement at home with their student.
  • PA Virtual Microsoft Academy: Allows parents to expand their digital knowledge with courses in Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint
  • Parent Ambassador Volunteer Program: Last year we had over 20 parent volunteers!
  • The Parent Toolkit and give parents access to endless resources and on demand learning on their terms

Q: How do you successfully engage so many parents in the cyber setting?

A: PA Virtual’s family support and student services departments are crucial to getting our families engaged in the learning process. It is a big part of what sets us apart from other cybers. Each department looks at the whole child and we take the role of parent partner very seriously. We want to give the parents as many resources for success as possible.

In our department we have one full time and 3 part time staff who are all dedicated to parent engagement, but more importantly are all current learning coaches within the school. Personally, I have had three children go through PA Virtual, my youngest is now 16 and will be a junior this year. We can talk to new and even veteran parents and relate to their situations and experiences and help them through the good and bad.

Q: Tell us more about the parent mentorship program!

A: Any parent who needs a little help navigating the land of cyber education can apply for a parent mentor. Parents are matched based on their child’s educational needs and we also try and match mentors with mentees in the same grade level and general geographical location.

Our mentees are matched for the duration of the school year, and work with their parent mentor on a variety of levels based on the tools and support they need to provide the best instruction to their child and support for them as a learning coach.

Our parent ambassadors are volunteers located in almost every region of the state and are a valuable part of our educational experience. We invite volunteers to our professional development with the staff, as well as provide them with additional professional development tools to prepare them for helping others. This past year, we launched two great new programs for our volunteers; the first was a free online course through Stanford University on nutrition – as parents often act as the food services department in the home! The course taught parents how to make healthy choices and meals for their students, and allowed them to share recipes and ideas with one another in an online discussion board. The second program implemented allowed our parents to take online courses through Microsoft IT Academy in areas such as Outlook, Excel, Word and PowerPoint.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in becoming a Parent Ambassador?

A: PA Virtual is always looking for volunteers! If you are interested in becoming a mentor, click here for more information! Many parents find that volunteering doesn’t take nearly as much time as they expected it would, and we work with plenty of parents to balance complex schedules!

A handful of our parent volunteers are former mentees who were significantly impacted by the mentor program and wanted to give back to the school, and we have heard so many stories of volunteers who find the time they give enlightening and rewarding.

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Posted on: August 18, 2016 by Jennifer Kilpatrick in



PA Virtual Welcomes Dr. Chandler!

PA Virtual CEO Dr. ChandlerThis summer PA Virtual announced that Dr. John Chandler, a veteran of cyber charter education, would be joining the PA Virtual team as our new Chief Executive Officer.

Lifelong educator and outgoing CEO, Dr. Joanne Barnett announced her retirement plans earlier this year. Under her leadership, PA Virtual has continually been one of the top ranked cyber schools in the state.

Dr. Chandler is originally from Michigan! He grew up there and received his Bachelor's Degree in Psychology, Education & Biology from Hillsdale College, and his Masters in Counseling at Central Michigan University.  He also completed graduate credits in educational administration and has earned his doctoral degree in K-12 School Administration through Seton Hall University.

In Michigan, Dr. Chandler worked in a variety of different school settings - public, private and charter. He started his career as a high school math teacher and coached basketball and track. He is one of the founders of Michigan Great Lakes Virtual Academy, one of the first virtual schools to receive a charter and is still operational today, serving almost 3,000 students.

“Many people have worked to grow PA Virtual into a school that is already held to such high standards,” said Dr. Chandler. “There are pieces already in place for success and I look forward to working with all staff, the school administration, and Board of Trustees to enhance those resources to make sure they are utilized as effectively as possible to benefit our students and families.”

Dr. Chandler wants current and future students to know that he is dedicated to providing additional resources to improve what is already considered one of the best online educational experiences found in Pennsylvania – and he can’t wait to get to know you!

Help welcome Dr. Chandler to the PA Virtual family in the comments below!

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Posted on: August 10, 2016 by Jennifer Kilpatrick in



In Defense of Cyber Schools

PA_Virtual_Grad_Kyra_Smith-CullenKyra Smith-Cullen is a PA Virtual graduate from the Class of 2011. She attended Lock Haven University to study Journalism and currently works as a copy editor for the Daily Item. In the following article that was published in the Daily Item, Kyra shares and dispels some of the arguments that are made against cyber charter schools. Thank you Kyra for sharing your story!

“In Defense of Cyber Schools”
Kyra Smith-Cullen

On June 10, I watched my youngest sister, Dimitria, graduate in a ceremony similar to my own. The principal made the same joke. Names were drowned out by families’ cheers — and an air horn. And, like me, she had never met most of the people she was graduating with.

Dimitria was a member of the seventh class to graduate from the Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School, or PAVCS. Our older sister, Tajya, was in the first and I was in the third. My brother, Kade, was the only one of us to graduate from a brick-and-mortar school, though Dimitria spent her academic career bouncing between the two. Tajya and I were home-schooled before joining PAVCS.

In the 13 years between starting PAVCS and Dimitria graduating, I have heard practically every argument against cyber schools.

One of the loudest arguments was how cyber schools weren’t held to the same academic standards as brick-and-mortar schools. We were encouraged to succeed on our tests and had to have a certain score in order to graduate. I had my core courses — math, English, history and science — along with my co-curricular courses and a mandatory test preparation class every semester. At one point, PAVCS switched to a schedule that was more in line with college, so courses were changed after 18 weeks and we were expected to keep pace.

Our teachers are like any other in the state, with licenses and proper certification, and they did the best they could to help us succeed. They had dedicated office hours and were available by appointment for tutoring program. It was drilled into our heads that, because we were cyber-schooled and under criticism, it was even more important to do our best because people would doubt our schooling.

At one point, I had a friend whose health issues forced her to consider alternative schools and her mother spoke to me about it. They’d gone to her school’s guidance counselor beforehand and mentioned they were considering cyber schools.

They were told that colleges didn’t consider cyber schools as valid high schools, the diploma wasn’t from an actual Pennsylvania school and it would make it difficult to have post-secondary education.

My classmates and I all graduated, received our very valid diplomas and moved on. They went to Cornell, Penn State, nursing schools or the military — and those are just among the people I talk to. Many of us who went to college were on the Dean’s List or graduated with honors.

I pride myself on my schooling. My grades were very important to me to through my entire academic career and I get slightly defensive when people suggest that, because I went to cyber school, things may have been easier for me. But the things I’ve achieved aren’t diminished by my education, they are supported by it. Tajya, Dimitria and I received a quality education at a cyber school and nothing will lessen that.


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