By: Cindy Dingeldein on June 1st, 2021
5 Things No One Tells You About Cyber School
Over the last 20+ years there has been a lot of misinformation distributed concerning cyber learning; especially cyber learning in the K-12 environment. However, cyber learning is a successful option for many families in Pennsylvania. The purpose of this blog is to give you some foundational information regarding cyber learning. Here are 5 things you may have not considered about cyber school.
1. Cyber School is an Authentic, Tuition-Free, and Public K-12 School Option in PA
Pennsylvania’s first charter school law, known as Act 22, was enacted in 1997 to set rules and regulations for charter schools to operate. Cyber schools fall under the directives of the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) and are mandated by the state to renew their charters every five years to be re-approved for operation.
To learn more about what a charter school is, check out this article on PDE’s website.
PA Virtual Charter School opened its doors in 2001 and has been celebrating its 20th Anniversary this school year. Happy Anniversary, PA Virtual! As a parent in the school, I’ve seen many changes since we first enrolled in 2004. Technology updates and changes, staff additions, relationship building between families and staff: always moving forward for the best education on behalf of the students.
I had many sincere questions from family members and friends in those first years.
- Is this a real school?
- Are there real teachers?
- What about socialization?
My goal at that time was to educate myself in the best way so that I could properly answer each question. This is a “real” school. PA Virtual has state-certified teachers who are gifted in their field, and many of them hold master’s degrees. Not only are there real teachers, but there are also real principals, guidance counselors, administrative staff, special education specialists, a parent education & engagement department, student services, and pupil health, complete with school nurses!
The socialization question remains in some minds even after all the years that cyber schools have operated in Pennsylvania. Without going into tremendous detail, the socialization question was asked and answered through our years of connecting with family and friends. We also participated in our neighborhood as well as many faith-based and community organizations. This enabled us to enjoy life and be successful in what we chose for our family.
2. Flexibility in the School Day
Another area not addressed is the time management factor and flexibility offered to a student in the cyber setting. Class schedules for students in a synchronous setting are much like those offered in the traditional public setting. However, the time spent on a school bus can be used for completing assignments instead. When time management is learned and executed, evenings can be productive for family and activities.
In the event you choose to work asynchronously, your schedule becomes even more flexible. PA Virtual does not have a synchronous schedule on Fridays but instead offers club and outing opportunities, online activities and sessions, and teacher office hours. There is plenty of time to complete projects and assessments on Fridays. High school students even have time for elective courses.
Keep in mind the attendance requirements of the PA Department of Education: 5 hours a day for k-6 grade and approximately 5.5 hours per day for 7-12. This equals 900 hours per year for k-6 students and 990 hours per year for 7-12 grade students. Per the Department of Education, school days are Monday through Friday.
3. Participation in the Local District (sports, music programs, etc.)
You may be pleased to know a cyber student can participate in the local district in any offered extracurricular activity per PA Charter School Law. An extracurricular is defined as an area in which a student receives no grade.
The link below from the PDE’s website gives a tremendous amount of knowledge concerning aspects of cyber schooling.
Charter Schools (Use Table of Contents to go to Extracurricular Activities)
Because a student cannot attend two school districts at the same time in Pennsylvania, if a school chooses to give a grade for an activity, the activity ceases to be extracurricular. Then the cyber student would not be eligible for that activity.
If you have a student interested in an extracurricular, a good place to begin is to call the appropriate personnel (a coach or head of a department). This will help you understand how your local district handles these areas for the cyber student.
4. Your Opportunity to Be Involved
I cannot say enough about the role of the parent in cyber education. This includes hands-on, daily involvement for all students. Of course, a kindergarten student will need more assistance than possibly a middle school or high school student. At PA Virtual, our days are designed for three-way communication:
- Staff initiates most of the communication and corresponds with student and parent
- Parent initiates and/or responds by communication with student and staff
- The student communicates with staff and parent
This looks different at every grade level. For instance, the majority of the time, the staff communicates through email to the parent in early elementary school rather than the student. In high school, as students are becoming more independent and making post-secondary decisions, communication is often between staff and students.
Nonetheless, each day parents (or the adult at home with the student) are responsible to read and respond to emails, check school announcements on Blackboard, and monitor the student throughout the day to ensure participation in the classroom setting. This adult, whom PA Virtual refers to as the Learning Coach, is also helpful to assist a student in carrying through the teacher plan each week, ensuring that assignments and assessments are complete.
Many parents have found this role tremendously rewarding as they see and hear what their student is learning on a daily basis. This offers a refresher for the parent and an avenue of communication with school staff and their students not found in many other educational opportunities.
5. Modeling to Our Students: Soft Skills and Values
I first enjoyed this picture in a presentation from the Parent Ambassador Program at PA Virtual.
One of the areas not readily spoken of until you actually take on that role of Learning Coach is the effect we have on our students. As we school from home, our students see us at our best, but also see us during difficulty. They watch and learn from our actions and reactions, our communication with others, what we are learning, as well as how we handle areas of life such as time management throughout the day.
There are times we may find ourselves annoyed, tired, speaking unkind words, and generally having what we would term “a bad day.”
The other side of the coin is our students get to see us on all of our best days. When we receive good news or are pleased about an area of life, we react with gratitude and interact positively with others. We have to opportunity to model and teach soft skills to our students.
Below is an article helping to guide you through soft skills: what they are and how to model them.
A Soft Skills Guide from Education Corner
Employers are looking for soft skills in potential employees. In fact, some companies consider soft skills almost on par with the actual skill it takes to do a job. Teamwork is becoming more popular in the workplace and many soft skills add to the value of a team when a member can automatically put them to use.
As Learning Coaches, we also have a great opportunity to teach our students our family values. Many of these have been taught in our families for more than one generation. A whole conversation can develop about our own history as a family unit.
While you consider joining the cyber school setting at PA Virtual, I do hope this blog has opened your eyes to a few areas you hadn’t yet considered. Feel free to explore the areas on our website describing the vast opportunities available to your students and family. This may open the door to be one of the most rewarding educational experiences you didn’t know was possible.
If you'd like to learn more about PA Virtual, you can request more information here.
About the Author: Cindy Dingeldein Cindy Dingeldein is a former PA Virtual parent and currently works at the school as a Parent Ambassador Regional Coordinator. Her daughter, Lexi Dingeldein, attended PA Virtual for all of grade school and graduated in 2017.