What's It Like to Transfer to a Cyber School During the School Year?
Sometimes families find themselves halfway through the school year, and their current option just isn't working out for them. In this blog post, we'll explore what it's like to transfer to a cyber school, what to expect (especially mid year), and more!
Sometimes, you just need a change.
You’ve made it this far into the school year and given it your best, but something’s telling you that you need to reevaluate the educational options for your child. Whether it’s health issues, bullying, the need for a different academic experience, or the desire for greater flexibility in schooling, you’re looking for something new. You’re also wondering, “Can we make a change now?”
The short answer is yes! If you’re considering a transfer to one of Pennsylvania’s cyber charter schools, here’s a guide to help you through the process.
Step 1: Keep Your Child Enrolled and Attending at Their Current School
The biggest mistake families make when transferring their student to a cyber school is withdrawing them too early. According to state law, students of compulsory age (6-18) must be enrolled and attending school or have filed paperwork to learn via a Traditional Homeschooling plan. Students who have 3 or more unexcused absences are considered truant and families can face serious consequences. The process of transferring to a cyber school can take some time, so keep your child enrolled and attending at their current school until you receive an official start date with their new school. Once you have that date, your new school can advise you about when to withdraw your child.
Step 2: Determine Your Eligibility
Students interested in enrolling in a cyber school in PA must be current residents of Pennsylvania and of school age* as defined by the PA Department of Education.
Kindergarten students must meet the age requirements of their local school district, even after the school year has begun. A student that turns 5 after the district cutoff date is not eligible until the following school year.
Some cyber schools may also have additional expectations, like the presence of an adult at home during the school day. If you aren’t sure whether you’re eligible to enroll, reach out to your chosen school for help.
*Students must complete their schooling by age 21
Step 3: Do Your Research
Once you’re sure your student is eligible to enroll, it’s time to do your homework. Pennsylvania has over a dozen cyber charter schools, and each one is a little different. You may want to consider the amount of live instruction offered, the curriculum used, or the opportunity to join clubs. This blog suggests 5 important questions to ask when choosing a cyber school.
For an in-year transfer, there are additional important questions to ask:
Is the school still enrolling students for the school year?
Schools can reach capacity for the year at different times. If one school is no longer enrolling, keep looking.
Will my child’s grades/credits transfer over?
K-8 students that are currently attending school will be able to enroll in their current grade. Homeschool students with a Homeschool Evaluation will be able to enroll in the grade recommended by the evaluator.
Each school will have their own policy about whether grades at this level transfer over. At PA Virtual, teachers may average some of a student’s previous grades into their current grade. However, a student’s final PA Virtual grade will be primarily based on how well they have mastered the concepts required for their current grade level. A student who struggled prior to transferring may not have mastered the concepts taught at their previous school, which can affect their ability to move forward successfully. If your student is struggling academically, be sure to learn about the supports a school may have to help them catch up.
Grade level for High School students is often based on the number of credits earned. At PA Virtual, we provide details regarding grade level in our High School Course Catalog, which can be downloaded from our High School page.
High School students who have earned credits towards graduation can expect most, if not all, of their credits to transfer to their new school. Many schools will complete a credit audit for you to make sure you clearly understand which credits will transfer. You’ll have to provide a copy of your child’s complete High School Transcript for them to review; you can often find this in your school portal or by requesting it from your current school. Credit audits are especially important for seniors, who will undoubtedly want to know if they can graduate on time.
Will my child be able to pass this year?
Each school has its own nuances for integrating transferring students. At PA Virtual, your child will join their class where they currently are in the year’s learning. Their teacher will assign any make-up work that may be needed to get them up to speed. They will not need to complete every previous lesson in each subject, but will need to complete ones that serve as building blocks for future learning.
Students that are doing well in school often catch up quickly and pass the grade, as long as they stay on track with their work at the new school. For students who are struggling academically, the timing of a transfer can make a big difference; the later in the year they transfer, the harder it may be for them to pass. Some cyber schools may offer tutoring or other academic support, summer classes, or credit recovery courses. Check with your selected school for details on cost, eligibility, and other details.
A Special Note About Block Scheduling for High School Students
Some high schools in Pennsylvania (including some cyber schools) operate on a block schedule. It’s important to know if your new school operates on the same schedule as your current school, as a difference between the two schools can create some challenges. Students moving from a block to a full-year schedule will retain any credits earned, but will have to catch up with the full-year classes they join. Students moving from a full-year to a block schedule risk falling behind in their credit attainment. Be sure to find out your new school’s schedule type, so you can consider how a transfer might affect your child’s classes, grades, and credits.
How will the school help us transition?
Most schools will have some sort of transition plan in place for incoming students. At PA Virtual, we have a 2-week Orientation for new families, which provides support to both the new student and the new parent as they “learn the ropes.” Because you need to be prepared to jump right into things in your child’s new classroom, we spend a lot of time making sure you know how to use school software, where to find school resources, and who you can reach out to for help. PA Virtual also has a special parent organization, where new parents can connect with experienced families for group sessions as well as one-on-one support.
Step 4: Apply
Each school has its own application process, so make sure you understand each of the steps in your new school’s process and any important deadlines. There are some common elements you’ll find across all cyber schools, however: an application, documents, and orientation.
Your new school will require you to complete an online application with basic information about your student. The application may include some forms that you will complete and sign, as well. Most schools have electronic signature technology, but there may be some that require printing and hand-signing.
You’ll be asked to submit documents to the school. Most schools have an application portal, email address, and/or fax number that you can use to send them.
The State of Pennsylvania requires the following documentation for all enrollments. There are strict guidelines about what items can be accepted, so be sure to reach out to your new school with any questions.
- Proof of Residency
- Proof of Age
- Immunization Records
Other documents that may be requested, depending on your child’s grade level and personal circumstances:
- Most recent report card & attendance record
- High school transcripts
- Homeschool affidavit and evaluation
- Discipline record
- 504 Plan
- Special education records
- Custody agreement/guardian agreement
Many of Pennsylvania’s cyber schools have an orientation to help families transition to their new school. The length of the orientation varies from school to school; at PA Virtual families (both students & parents) attend a 2-week orientation to help them transition into the cyber model. We make sure you understand how to use all of the school software, what resources are available to you, and who you can reach out to for help. In addition, we help you onboard to PA Virtual, and some of our families still remember (or even stay in contact) with their orientation/onboarding teacher!
Some cyber charter schools require a conference with new families, whether in person or on the phone. At PA Virtual, we complete two phone calls with enrolling families: one at the beginning of the process, and one at the end. The first call allows new families to ask all of their questions, learn how the school works, and begin their next step. During the final call, we review requirements and expectations in more detail, answer additional questions, and confirm their child’s start date.
Basically the Same...with a Difference
In many ways, transferring into a cyber charter school is similar to any other type of school change. Every school has enrollment and transfer processes that require applications, documents, and more. The details may be different, but the basic steps are the same. Be sure to check with your new school for important details on their particular process.
If PA Virtual is your chosen school, our Enrollment Team is ready to help guide and support you through the process. You can take the first step by applying here, and you’ll begin hearing from our team right away.
From all of us here at PA Virtual, we wish you luck on your educational journey!
About the Author: Andie Byron is Assistant Director of Enrollment Communication at PA Virtual.
Header image courtesy of anilsharma26 on Pixabay; others courtesy of PA Virtual.