Tips for New Cyber School Students [Alumni Perspective]
Thanks to the year 2020, several people are trying cyber schooling for the first time. For many families, distance learning is a new concept. For my family, though, it was a reality for thirteen years, as I advanced from kindergarten through high school in a cyber education model. I know that getting into a rhythm for cyber school can be challenging, but once you find that rhythm, this model of schooling will offer you so many opportunities to grow and succeed. Today, I want to focus on tips I can give you as a veteran of cyber school.
Good Practices for Cyber School
Make a schedule and stick to it.
Consistency is an important part of school. Take the time to discover what works for your family and then follow that pattern. You may have morning classes, so you eat breakfast together as a family to start the day. You might make plans to go to the park in the late afternoons. Math might be a difficult subject, so you dive right into homework when your session is over—or, you make sure to take a break, so you aren’t frustrated.
Find a balance of breaks.
For some students, it’s hard to take a break or pause. They want to get their work done so the rest of the day is their time. For other students, breaks tend to evolve into procrastination and late work. Regardless, taking breaks is important. Your brain needs to focus on other things. Your body needs to stretch and move around. Find the balance between overworking yourself in the pursuit of free time and hardly working at all. Using a timer may be helpful, as either a reminder to take a break, or a reminder to get back to work. When you find that balance, you will be the most productive and have the free time to enjoy your hobbies.
Work first and play later.
Personally, I think this mantra helped me succeed as a cyber school student, and later as a college student. My Learning Coach made this a norm in our house. We always stayed on top of our assignments, and in some cases, we would even work ahead. Not only is this a valuable skill for later in life, but it also makes life more enjoyable. If you are willing to delay your gratification of TV, video games, reading for fun, or playing outside, you can prevent the stress and anxiety that procrastination can bring.
Advocate for yourself.
In a cyber school like PA Virtual, students have their Learning Coaches and their teachers advocating for their learning. However, those adults are really setting an example for their students so they can advocate for themselves. Take initiative and speak up when something doesn’t make sense. Reach out to your teachers for additional help when you need it.
Do what you dislike first.
As Mark Twain once said, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” This might be a matter of personal preference, but for me, I always had to start my day with my least favorite subject: math. Getting it out of the way helped me to enjoy the rest of my work, and it also prevented me from building up the dread of doing it later. For students with asynchronous schedules, you can structure your day in the way that’s most productive for you. For synchronous students, this could be the order that you finish your outside-of-class work.
Enjoy the benefits.
One of the best things about cyber school is the flexibility to do what you love. So once you settle into that routine, take advantage of that flexibility. Maybe you’ll go out to breakfast some morning to celebrate a great test score. Maybe you’ll practice basketball at the park. It could be that you’re anxious to make your own money, and you can get a part-time job. There might be a great club in your area, or maybe you’d like to start one. Dream a little bit about what you would like to do, and then do it, because your cyber school routine has given you that opportunity.
Obstacles You May Face – and How to Overcome Them!
When your family is driving you crazy…
My Learning Coach and I are both strong willed which led to some interesting days at home. We are not afraid to admit that we clashed at times. There were moments it seemed we “couldn’t get away from each other!” Similar temperaments sometimes lead to arguments, but this is not a reason to throw in the cyber schooling towel. That’s just a natural part of growing up. You have to have grace for each other, and forgive each other. PA Virtual never intentionally made “forgiveness” a part of their curriculum, but that is something I learned during my time there that will be a part of my life forever.
When asking for help feels like admitting to being a failure…
You are never a failure when you ask for help. The resources that are available to you—office hours, videos, class recordings—are available for a reason. The reason is not that you are a failure, so you need to receive “extra help” since you just can’t get it on your own. There is no one right way to learn. No one is better than you for understanding with different types or amounts of resources. Advocate for yourself, and give yourself the chance to learn.
When your mindset is people just can’t learn online…
With that attitude, you won’t learn online. If you aren’t willing to try, nothing will ever work. Put an honest effort into cyber schooling. Even when understanding the technology is hard. Even when you have an argument with your Learning Coach. Even when the material isn’t clicking. Cyber schooling isn’t the best option for every student, but it is the best option for some students. You’ll never know if this is a great way for you until you try. Have that positive mindset.
When you feel like your classmates can’t be your friends…
Humans are social creatures, and we need relationships with other people (even the introverts!). Sometimes, the online platform doesn’t feel as personable as seeing one another face-to-face. How can you get to know somebody without knowing what they look like? Well, you can. Embrace that no one can see your bedhead or your pajamas, and talk to each other. Find students with common interests. Chat outside of class. Take the time to cultivate your friendship and get to know one another. You can make friends in your online classes, and they can be really meaningful relationships, because you are learning together.
When the technology seems too difficult to learn…
Hands down, one of the most difficult obstacles for new cyber school students can be adapting to the technology. Students and Learning Coaches must learn to navigate several online platforms, and some adapt more quickly than others. It might take months until it feels natural. It sometimes feels like a long learning curve. Do your best to have a positive outlook on technology. Here are some examples:
I don’t understand where my assignments are in Blackboard, but I’m going to figure it out.
I can’t remember which buttons I press in Blackboard Collaborate, but I can ask for help.
I keep forgetting to log my hours in Desire to Learn, but I’m going to make a note for myself.
Tips from other PA Virtual Alumni!
Veloie, who graduated in 2018, has some ideas to keep yourself motivated.
“Attending school online, I found isolation and a lack of motivation to be my greatest struggles. However, here are a few things I learned along the way that may help you if you also wrestle with these obstacles.
Keeping yourself motivated in an online environment can be especially difficult because you alone are responsible for keeping yourself on task. Even in the classroom, it is much easier to find your attention straying. When I struggle with my motivation, I find it useful to write out a list of tasks and their deadlines. Taking this a step further, for longer projects I make “checkpoints” to ensure I spread out the work more evenly.
When it is time to focus, make sure all the devices you are not using are shut down—it’s amazing how much time is saved simply by avoiding the temptation to check your phone, for example. If you need to work on the computer but find yourself wandering to less productive activities, there are web extensions available to block certain sites for however long you choose. I have used these tools a lot, and they have made it much easier for me to be productive in the virtual world.
If you feel isolated or struggle to make friends online, my number one suggestion is to join an extracurricular. These are great opportunities not only to make new friends but also to give yourself downtime, which is so important for avoiding burnout. Participating in extracurriculars also helps you grow in your skills and knowledge beyond your academic work. Many teachers sponsor these clubs and extracurriculars, so ask them about it if you are interested!”
Graduate from 2017, Abby learned about self-advocacy at PA Virtual.
“Most of my years in school were in PA Virtual. Something I learned was that whenever you’re struggling, the best thing to do is to ask a teacher for assistance, because they are able to help students navigate through things so well! When I was in elementary school, I struggled a lot with reading comprehension. I didn’t know how to find the main ideas or follow the storyline very well. I asked my teacher at the time, Mrs. Moore, if she could help me learn how to comprehend text that I was reading. She ended up spending extra time with me on virtual classes so that I could develop the skills that I needed in order to become successful in reading comprehension.
This changed the way that I learned and allowed me to have independence because she taught me what questions to ask myself while reading in order for me to be independent. Her impact on me has lasted through many years, and helped me to succeed in college.
A positive thing about PA Virtual is that the teachers want you to succeed, so when you need help, all you have to do is ask! Hard work pays off, and there are so many people who are willing to help you to push through the tough times!”
If you're a high school student and want to learn more about cyber high school, check out our blog post, "How Does Online High School Work?"
If you'd like to learn more about cyber schools, you can check out our Ultimate Guide to Attending a Cyber Charter School in PA. This guide will help you weigh the pros and cons of cyber charter schools and help you decide whether the cyber mode might be a good fit for you and your family.
About the Author: Alexis Dingeldein attended PA Virtual for all of grade school and graduated in 2017. During her time at PA Virtual, she wrote and self-published six novels. She is currently at Geneva College studying business and writing.