Cyber School Orientation: What to Expect
Making the switch to cyber school can seem daunting, but we're here to help! If you're considering enrolling at a cyber charter school, then you might have orientation to help acclimate you to the virtual environment. In this blog, one of our Orientation teachers, Ms. Slater, walks you through what you might expect to learn!
Starting at a new school is an exciting time, one of opportunity and growth.
For anyone switching to a cyber charter school model, there is also a learning curve regarding technology and expectations. It’s important that students and families are supported, especially as they transition into this new format.
Not all of Pennsylvania’s cyber schools have an orientation program, and the ones that do, of course, look a bit different from one another. Regardless, any school’s orientation program will seek to help families transition seamlessly into virtual learning. In this blog, I’ll discuss what orientation and onboarding might look like at a cyber charter school.
In general, orientation and onboarding at a cyber school provides students and parents with important things they need to know about attending the school, as well as providing ongoing support throughout the year. For most cyber charters, the goal is to ensure each family’s confidence in understanding and working the technology, as well as an understanding of the cyber school environment. The goal is for students to begin their classes with confidence and simply be able to focus on their courses, rather than needing to be concerned with how to work the technology.
Some cyber schools, such as PA Virtual, find it important for students to participate in a live online orientation course, so that they can get a feel for what their days will look like, including both the academic and social aspects. Orientation allows students to experience online school versus simply reading directions and imaging what working online is like. The orientation class is set up to mimic the subject area classes and school day so that there is an easy transition from orientation sessions into following a class schedule.
Families are generally guided through their orientation program by Pennsylvania certified teachers, all of whom are highly experienced with the technology and workings of the school environment. Parents (or the adult responsible for the child’s education) are asked to participate in orientation as well, so that they can also learn the systems and such in order to provide maximum support to their students. Some schools, like PA Virtual, offer a two-week orientation program.
Programs typically start with each student receiving a school laptop and directions for logging in. On the first day of Orientation, teachers help students and parents with accessing their school provided email address and then guide them through working in classroom software. PA Virtual uses Collaborate, where teachers and students interact with one another. Students practice using Collaborate tools, such as the microphone and whiteboard.
As the program moves forward, different topics are addressed each day, including how to navigate each of the school platforms. Families will learn how and where to complete assignments, communicate with faculty, find class resources, and check course grades. In some programs, families will meet various staff and faculty members who each specialize in providing support to families. This might include individuals such as Parent Ambassadors who offer to mentor parents, Family Support Coordinators who provide direct family assistance, guidance counselors, and even principals. Both students and parents will meet a wide range of individuals who each specialize in offering support services to new families.
A Day in Orientation
Many orientation classes meet in the “live classroom” in both a large group and a smaller setting. During PA Virtual’s first week, for example, all students, along with the adult responsible for their education at home, will work together, regardless of grade level. During these group sessions, all orientation teachers collaborate to present material and interact with families. Mornings during the first week of orientation focus on the topics related to all ages and all families in general. These subjects include learning how to use a number of systems and meeting multiple support people.
In the afternoons, students are separated by grade level and meet with their grade level orientation teacher. These sessions are for delving deeper into the programs as they apply to elementary versus middle versus high school. The second week of orientation continues the small group sessions. Students are given more opportunity to practice the skills they learned in the previous week, as well as develop new skills. Families are introduced to their building principals and will have time for a question/answer session. Guidance counselors also visit their respective grade levels to talk about classes and scheduling and also provide time for a Q and A.
After the orientation process is complete, students are not simply thrust into their academics and forgotten about. At some cyber schools, students are transitioned from the orientation program into an onboarding program. They continue to work with their same orientation teacher, who is prepared to help them successfully navigate through their first year. Orientation teachers, along with the previously introduced support staff are always available to answer questions and address concerns. If a student doesn’t remember how to access something for instance, his orientation teacher, now acting as his Onboarding teacher, continues to provide support and guidance.
Some cyber charter orientation and onboarding programs, like that here at PA Virtual, receive helpful feedback from both student and parent perspectives. We’ve had many families choose to enroll at our school because they heard from friends and family that our having an orientation program has contributed to their students’ success. One student shared his thoughts by saying, “I came into this school knowing nothing, but you taught me how to access everything and thrive, and I really appreciate it. Thanks for making my first year at PA Virtual a memorable and enjoyable one.” Likewise, a parent expressed her appreciation for our program and that the orientation teachers are “helpful and understanding and patient.”
Advice to Anyone Considering Cyber Charters
It is highly recommended that families looking to enroll in a cyber charter school ask if an orientation program is offered, and, if it is, explore the details. It is important for students to experience the ins and outs of online education before being thrust into courses. If students are able to learn the basics first, then they can move on to focus on math, rather than worrying about how to use a classroom whiteboard. They can excel in English, rather than try to figure out how to share their computer screen, and can thrive in science and not have to think about how to use the microphone. The goal of PA Virtual's orientation course is for students to be comfortable with the technology before they enter their classes. The technology should become second nature so that confusion about it doesn’t interfere with learning the academic subject material.
Thousands of families across Pennsylvania are thriving in the cyber charter school model, embracing the ever-shifting technology and learning styles that accompany virtual education. Supporting the transition of families is crucial to welcoming them to the community, addressing their needs, and providing them with the high quality education they deserve. Our orientation and onboarding program is but one support service we offer - all aimed at student and family success.
Considering the switch to online learning? If a cyber charter school sounds like a good fit, then check out our Ultimate Guide to Attending a Cyber Charter School in PA!
About the Author: Jennifer Slater is a New Family Orientation Teacher at PA Virtual.
Images courtesy of Ben Mullins on Unsplashd and Jennifer Slater.