Top Challenges That Cyber School Families Face
If you're looking to join the thousands of students across Pennsylvania who have moved to cyber school, then look no further! You may have questions and some concerns, but Parent Ambassador Coordinator Mrs. Lusk is here to address some top challenges — and the solutions that we have for them!
If 2020 taught us anything about education, it's that we can learn almost anywhere!
The temporary move to virtual learning brought opportunities and challenges for families in brick-and-mortar settings — and many discovered that online instruction appealed to their needs.
Cyber charter schools offer a unique blend of benefits from both public school education and a flexible virtual model. Those benefits provide plenty of opportunities for students, but they are not without their challenges. Let’s take an honest look at some of the challenges our cyber school families face — and how they overcome them.
Challenge #1: Technology Access and Support
There is no doubt that a distinct advantage of cyber education is its flexibility. The virtual setting allows students to utilize resources they might not have had access to otherwise, all while learning from a convenient location.
But access to the technology that paves that flexible path is essential. Families enrolling in cyber charter schools span the entire state, from rural counties to metropolitan areas. For some, high-speed internet might be a financial challenge, or having a computer that is adequate for their learning needs.
How do some of these schools, such as PA Virtual, fulfill the mission to use “innovative technologies” to provide a superior cyber education for ALL students?
First, PA Virtual provides the technology a family needs to be successful in our cyber school model.
EVERY student receives…
- A laptop and headset
- A printer
- Curriculum and access to educational and collaborative platforms
- A stipend towards internet access costs.
Second, PA Virtual provides full technical support in a variety of ways to keep students learning in spite of the inevitable technological glitches that can occur in any setting.
- The PA Virtual Student Support Site is just a click away! From the easy-to-find button on the school login page, students can locate an array of technical support information, from “Frequently Asked Questions” to “Featured Topics.”
- If the technical problem goes beyond the “Knowledge Base” on the PA Virtual Student Support Site, families can call the Tech Support Helpline. Helpline tech teams provide prompt and reliable support to address problems quickly and minimize school interruptions.
Challenge #2: Less Formalized School Day Structure
For students who have experienced a traditional brick-and-mortar education, the idea of schooling at home might sound like a welcome change from navigating school hallways, racing the late bell, and organizing a student locker.
But the absence of a physical school structure can be quite a challenge. An in-person school setting establishes structure and routine for students – two elements that are vital to academic success.
- Physical classroom environments are associated with school work and assignments.
- A school day schedule is provided, indicating the order of subjects and class times.
- Student lockers, desks, or cubbies specify where school items are stored and organized.
- Bells hold students accountable to prompt class attendance.
Turning the home environment into a school work space requires commitment, dedication, and creativity. After all, home is often associated with leisure, rest, and relaxation – not school work and schedules! How do cyber schools help their families and students find a balance of “flexible structure” for doing school at home?
- Staff guide families in creating a learning space in their home that accommodates their student’s learning style and provides a way to organize school supplies.
- Families are provided with templates and ideas to establish a school day routine in the home.
- Live, synchronous classes are available for all grade levels and provide a specific order of classes at set times each day.
- Attendance requirements and procedures hold students accountable for attending and participating in live, synchronous classes.
- At PA Virtual, an asynchronous Friday schedule provides students the opportunity to work on assignments, participate in teachers’ Office Hours, and attend school outings while adding an element of flexibility to the school week.
The combination of structure and flexibility available at PA Virtual supports student success in spite of the challenges that learning at home can bring.
Challenge #3: Screen Time Concerns
Few would disagree with the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s statement that screens are here to stay. With such innovative technology at our fingertips, it is natural for parents to have concerns about their students having too much screen time, especially when their students attend school online.
While many cyber school programs are sensitive to the need to build movement and fresh air breaks into the school day, it is also important for parents to consider a screen time management plan for their family.
Parents can help their students balance screen time using some proactive measures.
During school time
- Be intentional about movement breaks. Set a reminder to get up and move for a few minutes at least once every hour.
- Incorporate physical supplies into your student’s learning as much as possible. Have them take notes in a notebook, create their artwork with various mediums, and participate in science experiments.
- Be enthusiastic about the many opportunities teachers provide for offline learning – history projects, math models, literature role play, reading, and educational games.
All the time
- Be an example. Parents can model what limiting screen time looks like by practicing it themselves. Consider limiting screen modes of entertainment if screens are used all day for work and school.
- Provide balance. Intentionally include printed resources and media in your family’s routine.
- Stay active and outdoors. Supply experiences for your students in the real world, not just the virtual one.
Challenge #4: Lack of Socialization
When students transition from a brick-and-mortar setting to cyber education, not interacting in person with classmates and teachers may be quite an adjustment! Although amazing friendships are made in the virtual setting, cyber schools realize the importance of face-to-face connections for students and their families.
PA Virtual organizes regional outings and service learning opportunities so that students and staff can meet – offline! The community enjoys…
- Back-to-School and End-of-Year picnics
- Museum trips
- Zoo days at Pittsburgh and Elmwood zoos
- Historical site visits
- Hikes and outdoor nature centers
- Bowling, miniature golf, and more!
Cyber charters also encourage families to get involved in their local communities to create more in-person connections.
- Students in Pennsylvania can participate in their local school district's sports or extracurricular activities that are not already offered by the cyber charter school, as long as the student meets all the requirements of the activity.
- Parents can get involved by participating in parent or booster organizations and volunteering at school district events, allowing them to get to know parents and families in the area.
- Community organizations like the YMCA, the Salvation Army, local libraries, and scouting programs offer plenty of opportunities for families and students to get involved.
Cyber school students can stay healthy – mentally, emotionally, and physically – by intentionally getting involved and staying connected.
Challenge #5: Keeping Students Motivated and On Task
Being motivated and staying on-task is a challenge and not necessarily just for students! People in general can struggle to maintain momentum in any given area. So how do cyber school students, schooling online at home, stay motivated and on-task during the school day?
One powerful way is through teacher support. Cyber school teachers use a variety of tools and methods to hold students accountable and keep them motivated.
PA Virtual teachers
- Help students set goals and create task lists through weekly and monthly plans
- Remind students of goals and deadlines to hold them accountable
- Provide prompt feedback and advice for improvement
- Use interactive tools like videos, webcam, whiteboard, and chat features, to engage students during online classes
The opportunities provided within the online school community are another effective tool for student motivation.
The PA Virtual community
- Provides clubs and activities to motivate students through school involvement and peer connections
- Provides school outings to give students face-to-face meetings to look forward to
- Encourages learning ownership and student autonomy through flexible schedules
Of course, since students “work from home,” the Learning Coach plays a major role in maintaining student motivation.
PA Virtual Learning Coaches
- Create a designated learning space for each student, with a quiet way to work and organize school materials and supplies;
- Help students create and post schedules and routines that keep students on task during the school day;
- Stay involved in student learning by supporting students during live classes, communicating with teachers, monitoring assignments and grades, and more;
- Provide personalized incentives;
- Model lifelong learning habits.
Keeping students motivated is a team effort!
Challenge #6: Family Balance and Support
Anyone who has educated students at home knows that it affects the entire family. So, supporting the whole family is a key component to virtual education and is vital for student success.
Cyber charter schools support families by providing the technology and curriculum needed for a quality education without tuition expenses. PA Virtual further supports families by including an internet reimbursement stipend to help cover internet connection costs.
Cyber school families are also supported through a balance of structure and flexibility. Structure is provided through the availability of live, synchronous classes, while flexibility through asynchronous classes and independent work reinforces each individual family dynamic — and allows for opportunities that a traditional school schedule may not have accommodated.
Becoming a cyber school parent is a big commitment since it requires close, daily involvement in a student’s education. Although it may not be a good fit for everyone, many parents who choose this model find it quite rewarding. They appreciate the advantages of the cyber charter school model, including:
- Determining and customizing their student’s learning environment;
- Enjoying a learning atmosphere free from the typical brick-and-mortar distractions;
- Using technology to increase digital literacy and college and career readiness in their students;
- Fostering time management skills, self-advocacy strategies, and independent work habits;
- Reinforcing family relationships through shared learning experiences.
While the transition to virtual learning has some challenges, some cyber schools, like PA Virtual, have more than 20 years of experience in supporting students and families. If you’re considering an online education, just remember that every challenge has a solution! And cyber schools rise to the occasion!
Ready to learn more about cyber schools? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Attending a Cyber Charter School in PA!
About the Author: Darcie Lusk is the Parent Ambassador Regional Coordinator for families in Western Pennsylvania.
Images courtesy of Anilsharma26 on Pixabay.