What Supports Are in Place for New Cyber Charter Families?
Looking to transition to a cyber charter school model? In this blog post, Darcie — one of our Parent Ambassador Regional Coordinators — discusses some of the programs in place to help families who are new to PA Virtual.
Whether you are enrolling your student into kindergarten for the first time or making the switch from a brick-and-mortar education, schooling your child through a cyber charter model can seem like a daunting task.
There are curricular tools to learn, schedules to maintain, paperwork to complete, learning spaces to organize, students to manage, and procedures to follow! Here at PA Virtual, we recognize that families may need some guidance, so we have developed special programs to help support our newest community members.
Student success has always been the core of PA Virtual Charter School, and in an effort to help new PA Virtual families thrive in this model, PA Virtual began the New Family Orientation program in the fall of 2017. New Family Orientation is a two-week online synchronous training program for new Learning Coaches and their students in "all-things" PA Virtual. But with so much to learn in a relatively short amount of time, many families still needed additional ongoing support even after successfully completing the robust Orientation program.
In the fall of 2018, PA Virtual’s Parent Ambassador Program began hosting New Family Fifteen sessions to provide this much-needed ongoing support, as well as create opportunities for Learning Coaches (LC) to connect with one another. As indicated in the title, these online sessions are geared towards new Coaches, although seasoned LCs are also welcome to attend!
New Family Fifteen sessions occur every Friday morning and have two main components.
- Open Office Hours – The Parent Ambassador team opens the online Parent Learning Room at 8:00 a.m. every Friday morning for 40 minutes of “Open Office Hours.” Learning Coaches are invited to the virtual room to ask questions, share ideas, and connect with the Parent Ambassador staff and other LCs. This 40-minute Q&A time is a valuable and accessible way for new Coaches to feel supported and connected as they adjust to their new routines and requirements as a PA Virtual family. Many LCs maintain faithful attendance to these sessions throughout the year as friendships are created.
- The Learning Coach Presentation – Each New Family Fifteen session also includes a 15-minute presentation from 8:40–8:55 a.m. that focuses on a foundational Learning Coach or cyber school model management skill. Since PA Virtual offers in-year enrollment with new families joining throughout the school year, four presentation topics are rotated monthly. This allows each group of newly enrolling families to be supported with the same foundational information.
The four New Family Fifteen presentation topics are:
- The Role of the Learning Coach
- Creating an Optimal Learning Environment
- Time Management Strategies for Learning Coaches
- Practical Tips for Student Success
When calendar months happen to contain five Fridays, an additional “Coffee Chat” session is included on the fifth Friday of the month. These less-formal fifth Friday sessions are geared towards answering LCs’ questions and providing opportunities for them to connect and converse with one another.
The live, 15-minute presentations are recorded each week, with links to the recordings located on the Parent Ambassador Program website. Practical resources are shared during each session, including schedule templates, LC checklists, tips for working with students, and links to applicable blog posts. The links for these resources are also posted on the Parent Ambassador Program website and are available for all Coaches.
New Family Fifteen sessions deliver a unique avenue of assistance for new LCs. Hosted by a staff of current and former PA Virtual parents, the sessions include a balance of ideas, support, and understanding from people who have actually been in the LC role.
Even before the onset of the New Family Fifteen sessions, the Parent Ambassador team wanted to provide accessible resources and support so that Learning Coaches could have continued success throughout the school year.
Originally known simply as “Parent Learning Sessions,” Parent Lunch & Learn sessions began in 2015. These weekly sessions were a way that LCs could receive consistent support through ideas, information, and materials. In an effort to be sensitive to the busy and demanding schedule of an LC, the sessions occur weekly on Mondays during the school’s common lunch hour and consist of two components: Open Office Hours and a Learning Coach Presentation.
- Open Office Hours – The Parent Ambassador Team opens the online Parent Learning Room at 11:00 a.m. every Monday for 15 minutes of “Open Office Hours.” Just like the “Open Office Hour” time that precedes the New Family Fifteen sessions, LCs are invited to the virtual room to ask questions, share ideas, and connect with the Parent Ambassador staff and other Coaches. Although LCs are welcome to address questions and concerns during this time, it is often an informal conversation where they enjoy establishing meaningful friendships. Our LCs report that connecting with other Coaches reinforces the presence of the PA Virtual community; they draw strength and encouragement simply knowing they are not alone in their coaching journey.
- The Learning Coach Presentation – Like the New Family Fifteen sessions, the Parent Lunch & Learn sessions also include a 15-minute presentation. From 11:15–11:30 a.m. the Parent Ambassador staff provides a time of Learning Coach “professional development.” Each week features a different session topic addressing an area to enhance a Coach’s role, including subjects from child development to communication skills to managing household tasks.
Here are some example titles of topics that have been offered during these sessions.
- Meaningful Student Management
- Learning Coach Administrative Tasks
- Soft Skills
- Balancing Household Tasks as a TEAM
- Becoming Better Listeners
- Creative Coaching
As with the New Family Fifteen sessions, the Parent Lunch & Learn live, 15-minute presentations are recorded each week, with links to the recordings located on the Parent Ambassador Program website. Each session includes a handout that outlines the main points of the session, and often contains additional and applicable materials. The links for these resources are posted on the Parent Ambassador Program website and are available for all Learning Coaches.
PA Virtual recognizes the significant role that LCs play in their child’s education. Although not labeled as “professionals,” Coaches fulfill many of the same responsibilities as one! Providing ongoing professional development through Parent Lunch & Learn sessions is a key way to keep them confident, energized, and efficient.
New Family Fifteen and Parent Lunch & Learn sessions are just two examples of how our Coaches are supported and engaged through the Parent Ambassador Program. Since research reveals that parental involvement is one of the best and most accurate forecasters of student success, the Parent Ambassador Program was created in 2008 to more intentionally involve PA Virtual families in their children’s education to promote increased student achievement.
One effective way to involve parents in their child’s education is to provide learning-focused activities. With this in mind, the Parent Ambassador Program provides a variety of educational offerings for parents.
- Easily accessible resources, such as Tools to Get Started, Learning Coach Strategies, the Learning Coaches Corner, and the Resource of the Month.
- Online Parent Learning sessions, including the New Family Fifteen and Parent Lunch & Learn Sessions.
- Parent Certificate programs, with both live synchronous and self-paced asynchronous options available.
The Parent Ambassador Program also recognizes the importance of supporting parents through opportunities for engagement and aims to provide meaningful interaction through several avenues.
- Volunteer Program – Parent Ambassador Volunteers stay connected to PA Virtual by participating in the Parent Mentor Program, testing pilot programs, offering support at face-to-face events, and participating in professional development opportunities.
- Parent Ambassador Family Activities – These regional face-to-face events give PA Virtual families a chance to meet staff members and each other, and to establish meaningful friendships.
- Mentor Program – The Mentor Program pairs new LCs with another parent for one-on-one mentoring by phone and email. Parent Ambassador mentors offer tips and encouragement to families and answer their questions.
Everything at PA Virtual, from programs to personnel, is founded on the school’s Diamond Model of Partnership. The Diamond Model of Partnership is designed to surround the student with the supports they need to succeed, including excellent teachers, top-notch curriculum and technology, dedicated family support, and engaged parents.
In keeping with this collaborative approach, the Parent Ambassador Program works with other school staff to promote strong families and successful students. Among these inter-staff partnerships is a strong working relationship with the Family Support Coordinators (FSCs). These regional staff members support families by being a point of contact for any non-academic needs as well as organizing field trips and service learning opportunities for families.
The Parent Ambassador Program works in tandem with the FSCs by specifically supporting the Learning Coach in their role and providing additional face-to-face events. By providing a network of support and addressing multiple areas of non-academic needs, the FSCs and Parent Ambassadors empower parents and students to better focus on academic achievement.
Schooling four students through PA Virtual allowed me to participate in the Diamond Model of Partnership as a PA Virtual parent and Learning Coach. My positive experience as a parent prompted me to join the Parent Ambassador Program as a Regional Coordinator for the western portion of the state, making my partnership with PA Virtual two-fold. Not only could I personally relate to the parent’s LC role, but as a member of the Parent Ambassador staff, I had the tools and resources to help parents have just as rewarding a PA Virtual experience as we did.
Although all four of our students are now PA Virtual graduates, I am thrilled to still be a part of PA Virtual’s Diamond Model as the Western Regional Coordinator for the Parent Ambassador Program. Working with the Parent Ambassador Team to mentor new parents through phone call and email correspondence, create timely resources, and provide opportunities for parents to connect virtually and face-to-face allows me to help PA Virtual families enjoy a fulfilling PA Virtual experience — one marked by students of strong character, academic achievement, and social success.
When transitioning into a cyber-charter school environment, it’s natural to have many questions and need some guidance. Just like at brick-and-mortar schools, cyber charter teachers and staff are here to see students and families succeed. Here at PA Virtual, we’ve taken it a step further to develop support programs that put you and your family at the center.
About the Author: Darcie Lusk is the Parent Ambassador Regional Coordinator for families in Western Pennsylvania.
Ready to learn more about cyber charters? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Attending a Cyber School in PA!
Photo credits to sofatutor on Unsplash.