Cyber School Vs. Brick and Mortar School: Pros and Cons
There are many factors to consider as a parent when deciding which education model would be the best fit for your family. If you’re looking into the cyber model for your child, you likely have many questions. Will my child be engaged in this environment? How will they make friends? Is there more or less stress? If they are struggling in class, are there services provided like there are in a brick and mortar school?
These are all valid concerns and questions, especially because this was a new platform when many current parents went to school. Since cyber schools have been around, there have been several changes and improvements to make sure that the model provides students with a quality education that compares to traditional brick and mortar schools.
In this post, you will learn some of the pros and cons of sending your child to a PA cyber school or a brick and mortar school.
Can a teacher actually engage students if they are not in close proximity to them? If the teacher is not properly trained by their school district on how to use the material provided, then it can be a challenge for teachers to engage students. We saw this at the beginning of 2020 with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, many brick and mortar teachers were unprepared to engage and teach their students online. This was not because they lacked the skills as a teacher, but rather because it was a new forum. If teachers were lucky enough to be on a team where everyone worked together and learned how to best use the tools available, then it was a win-win situation. However, some teachers and schools would not require students or teachers to be on camera, which is a huge detriment to student engagement.
Cyber school teachers are given the tools and the training to engage their students. They are provided with support from teachers who have evolved with the online education system since its inception. These veteran teachers let newer online teachers know what works, but better than that, they accept new ideas brought to the table. As teachers at PA Virtual Charter School, we pilot new programs within our systems to see if they would be a better fit and get the students more involved.
During the Spring of 2020, I was teaching at Quaker Valley School District, and they supported the teachers and we supported each other. Working there gave me the resources to move to PA Virtual seamlessly. I feel like I have the same level of interaction with the students that I did in brick and mortar. The students are expected to be on camera and are given any items to engage their learning. As a teacher, I use these items and interact with the students to ensure that they are grasping the concepts.
The whiteboard is a wonderful feature to use. I can show the students how to form numbers and words under the desktop camera. Then, I have them hold up what they have written to see if they are staying on track. This makes the students happy to show their work to the teacher and their peers. By doing this, the students are active participants and know that I am checking to see what they are doing.
Some other ways students stay engaged are using the tools within Blackboard, which is the learning management system for our virtual classroom. I ask the students to vote using different icons to see if they are following directions and to grasp whether they know the answers to the questions. As the students improve using the tools, I tell them specific colors to use to write on the whiteboard within the classroom. This teaches them to be considerate of their peers and their work. The students write their answers on the whiteboard and are careful not to write over their friends' answers.
As the year progresses and the students get more comfortable with the technology, I’ve added games to test their knowledge. On Jamboard, I create questions for the students to complete. I insert pictures to see if the students can match the picture to the word. For math, I have moveable pieces so that they can show me how they are figuring out math problems. This is valuable because I can see how the student is completing the problem step by step. With this, I can tell what they need help on. With all of these tools, it is important to keep the students active but not oversaturate them with too many activities that overwhelm them.
Pictured above: Lily Honeychurch
Pictured above: Elsa Krueger
How can your child make friends? In brick and mortar school, your child’s friends live in your community. They may live in your neighborhood or go to your church. Sometimes your child is in class with a child of someone that you went to school with, which makes an easy connection. During the day, they have opportunities to interact at lunch, recess, or on the bus. The children become friends and have playdates at one another's house. Parents want their kids to have friends and children crave social interaction with peers. Peer relationships have proven positive in their growth and development.
So, how can cyber school students build and maintain peer relationships? There are small groups in the online classroom where the students get to know each other. Just like in brick and mortar, PA Virtual Charter School has lessons that teach the students but also lend to them personalizing their answers. The students get time at the beginning or end of class groups in which they talk to each other. As they get to know each other, they form bonds and make plans to meet outside of class, either on Zoom calls or in person. The wonderful part about this is sometimes they will invite the teacher to their Zoom call. I showed up for just 5 minutes in my students’ Zoom meeting, and they were so excited that their teacher made time to do this.
Another big pro of starting a friendship online is that the families get to know each other and get a comfort level before meeting in person. If the family is displaying traits that you don’t want to expose your child to, it is easier to discourage this type of relationship.
Cyber schools also have ongoing opportunities for students to socialize with each other outside of the classroom at outings, field trips, and virtual clubs. Students who attend a public cyber school in PA are also eligible to participate in extracurricular activities in their school district per PA Charter School Law.
Preparing for the Day
A big perk about cyber schooling is that there is no commute required. The travel time to school is conveniently within your house. There is no need to worry about traffic jams, not knowing the bus driver, or your child being bullied on the bus.
If the student has anxiety about getting to school, then this sets the tone for the whole day. There might be the dread of riding the bus and this could carry over into the school day, which will affect the child's attention. Since parents do not need to worry about driving their child to school or getting them to the bus stop on time, the family gets a little more time added to their morning and afternoon.
There is a true concern that students aren’t getting one-on-one time in an online school. What if my child needs speech or extra tutoring? Are there IEPs (Individualized Education Program) and can the teachers follow them in a cyber environment? In all schools, students who qualify will receive these services.
In a brick and mortar setting, students are taken to another room to work on speech. Teachers set up time before school, after school, or during specials if the student is struggling. For IEPs, teachers attend meetings and make sure that they are implementing what is within the plan. These have been done traditionally and well within the system. It works well because if you see a struggle with the student, you can use the resources in your building. You could also have the student talk to their guidance counselor if there are other concerns. This is a great environment for receiving services.
In PA cyber schools, students receive speech services, but they are not taken out of class. The teacher and speech therapist work together on creating a schedule that will not interfere with class time. The speech therapist makes sure to take the students after a break from class time so that they are not overwhelmed. Also, there is no stigma because their peers do not know which students are in speech therapy.
Since tutoring takes place during regular school hours, you don’t need to worry about transportation for the student or making time in your busy schedule. Also, other students don’t realize who is getting tutored because we meet in breakout rooms so we can work one-on-one or in small groups if needed. It flows within the week and the students can take advantage of different times during the week to get extra help.
Finally, the IEPs in cyber schools are followed just like they are in brick and mortar schools. Teachers and staff meet as a team with the families, which seems easier to get everyone to attend. We use our resources of private messaging and breakout rooms to help with the accommodation of IEPs as needed. Students are not able to determine that another student is getting special accommodations in this venue. Personally, I was surprised at how much privacy the students who receive special services have in cyber school compared to brick and mortar.
In conclusion, there are benefits in both types of schools for the student. What is your student like? Do they have anxiety and worry about what others are thinking? Do they feel like their classmates are judging them without getting to know them? Will a cyber school ease your anxiety as a parent? PA Virtual offers what brick and mortar schools do in terms of student engagement, socialization, services, and more. The decision is more about choosing a suitable learning environment and knowing more about your child's day. This will make your student feel secure and in turn, have them be successful within the classroom.
If you’re interested in learning more about PA Virtual and how cyber school works, we invite you to attend an online open house. At the open house, you will learn about our curriculum and teaching methods, the services we offer families, the technology we use, and more. RSVP here.
About the Author: Janese Claar is a kindergarten teacher at PA Virtual.