Why I Chose Online School for My Child
Families in 2021 have many options for educating their children. Homeschool, which began on a larger scale in the 1970s; private schools, which have been available for many decades; local public schools, which are utilized by the majority of PA families; and for the past 20+ years, we have encountered the “new kid on the block”: charter & cyber charter schools.
When it was our family’s turn, many of our friends were at the end of the decision process. It seemed there were so many questions and so many decisions to be made. This was our journey.
Online School Choice in Pennsylvania
In the fall of 2002, I was working part-time from home and volunteering once a week with a community organization. My schedule allowed me time for listening to talk radio. Our daughter was three years old and I knew soon it would be time for her to walk out the door and hop on a school bus. Then one day I heard a radio broadcast with a special guest, Bill Bennett, who was a former United States Secretary of Education. At the time, he headed K12, a new online school company in the United States. Since I knew homeschool or private school wasn’t an option, and I wasn’t sure I was ready for her to hop on that bus soon, I decided to listen to what he had to say.
He described a situation where:
- School would be a part of the public school system.
- School would be held at home.
- Curriculum, a computer, and other materials would be supplied.
- Teachers and administration would be a part of the package – I wasn’t doing this alone.
- Several states had this option.
Truthfully, I couldn’t wait until the broadcast was completed so I could run to the computer with our dial-up service and check out Pennsylvania. Could Pennsylvania possibly be included in the list of states who offered this educational choice to families?
So I did, and I was pleasantly surprised by my results. There was an online school in Pennsylvania that offered the K12 curriculum and all of the supplies to school at home. It was called PA Virtual Charter School.
But online school was so new. Could it be a viable option for our daughter’s education? Often when our family is making a decision, we write a list of pros and cons. This time in addition to pros and cons, we wrote a list of what it was we wanted in education. Over the next year, I’d check in on the website and it was still there, assuring me this cyber option was a reality. Then one day I noticed a springtime meeting in our area at a local college hosted by K12 and PA Virtual. At that time, PA Virtual was serving students in kindergarten through 2nd grade. As I remember, they added grades each year until they offered kindergarten through 12th grade education. Our family signed up to attend for the day.
That day was such a great experience. Speakers from both K12 and PA Virtual were there, presenting throughout the day. Teachers and other families were answering questions. Tables full of the curriculum were on display. Lunch was held in the college dining hall and we had an opportunity to chat with current parents.
To be truthful, it seemed almost too good to be true. I didn’t have an education background, so could I even do this? Making no lasting commitment, I took the plunge and signed up to be on a mailing list. Later in 2003, there was another presentation in our area and we took the opportunity to attend. This too was an excellent evening with lots of answered questions. One of the first things I realized was that even then, school choice was available in Pennsylvania. And secondly, we were not locked into a 13-year contract. So we decided to take the plunge.
In the summer of 2003, we were invited to a PA Virtual ‘outing’. It was a picnic at a local park featuring students with a show-and-tell of an item of their choice. Again, this experience connected me not only to a possible school choice but also to a group of families who chose the same option for their students.
We enrolled by email and a phone conversation after that outing. In August of 2003, we had one more opportunity to meet PA Virtual staff and review the curriculum at a local hotel, where we actually met my daughter’s kindergarten teacher.
At that point, we decided we would try this for a year.
Why WAS I Interested in School Choice?
This is the list we made for what we wanted in education:
- To enroll her in a place with an excellent opportunity to learn without distraction.
- To be proactively involved in teaching our family values.
- We knew other families who didn’t choose the traditional route and were succeeding.
- We heard stories of bullying and other student difficulties and were unsure we wanted our daughter to be exposed to such at five years old.
I knew from the beginning that making a non-traditional choice would stretch me. I wasn’t sure I wanted the stretch but was willing to take it on – at least for a year.
What We Didn’t Choose
- We didn’t choose homeschool because:
- I didn’t want the responsibility of choosing the curriculum.
- It seemed a great load to be completely responsible for all daily school work.
- We didn’t choose the brick and mortar option because:
- I wasn’t sure I was ready for her to be out of the house Monday through Friday.
- She had morning motion sickness, and I wasn’t sure the bus ride was going to suit her or start the day well for a teacher.
- The bus ride was first on and last off, which was a lot of bus riding each week.
- Private school was out of the question unless I wanted to work full-time, and I was content working part-time.
We Chose PA Virtual
- It met the excellent opportunity to learn option with both good curriculum and staff.
- The only distractions would be normal experiences – the occasional delivery or friend stopping by.
- We were able to instill our values – honor, honesty, diligence, compassion, generosity, and so on.
- Curriculum and materials were provided.
- She had a PA state-certified teacher who would be with us every step of the way.
- On a personal level: no morning bus sickness problems, no long bus ride, no large financial investment, and we were part of the public school system in PA.
I will admit, the day UPS arrived with the computer and curriculum, I was terribly overwhelmed. Our daughter, however, loved every bit of it. When my husband walked through the door that evening, he grinned as he knew what I was thinking. He said to me, “One page, one day at a time.” That became my motto as we began kindergarten.
We had determined we would use shelves to house our materials. Our daughter liked rainbows, and the K12 curriculum books were color-coded, so it worked out well.
Why Did We Stay?
Can I tell you kindergarten was a blast? The online school, textbooks, and workbooks were colorful and held her attention. There were math manipulatives sent with the math curriculum, so there were hands-on experiences as well as learning numbers, etc. We cuddled on the couch for reading time. All of the other subjects arrived with more than a textbook. People talk about priceless opportunities, but to see her learn to begin to read was priceless.
- We loved her teachers.
All PA Virtual families in 2004 had asynchronous learning with two scheduled appointments each month for the teachers to work one-on-one with their students, plus have a conversation with the parent. And at first, I overloaded our days with every single point in the lessons, but as time went by, I confided in her teacher that exhaustion had set in. She instructed me on how to use the curriculum to meet the goal or objective of the lesson. It was then our days became almost stress-free. (Unless we had tech issues. At first, I was a basket case with tech issues.)
- We loved the flexibility that online learning offered.
Monday through Thursday we often worked a little on extra lessons – keep in mind, we had zero transportation time. Even when we worked later in the day, we completed our school day before the school bus rode through the neighborhood. Then on Friday, we could ease up a little, often going to an outing or lunch with another family. By working ahead during the week, all the school work for the week was completed.
- We knew the entire staff was there if needed.
Because we chose asynchronous work through 7th grade, we had a teacher each year who communicated with us twice a month. She worked with our daughter one-on-one and could provide me guidance in any area lacking while praising her efforts. Teachers gave me information on our daughter’s strengths and weaknesses for me to equip her well. When we chose synchronous learning in 8th grade, she knew the expectations, and I learned to appreciate the staff even more.
While attending outings, the Family Support Coordinator who arranged and carried out the outings usually had an ice breaker or short lesson for the parents. This connected us to another aspect of the school.
- We enjoyed the K12 curriculum.
The K12 curriculum engaged us throughout. I especially loved that we were using a curriculum designed for online instruction, which provided support to the parent for learning and had a system in place to receive and return materials at no cost to the family.
Are You a Prospective Parent?
In the PA Virtual model, you don’t send your student off to school – even if you send them to a room of your home. PA Virtual requires an adult, who we call the Learning Coach, to set aside time each day for the student. Make that determination first. Then, I would encourage you to write out your goals for your child’s education and some pros and cons that you are aware of in the different educational models presented in PA. Each cyber charter school in PA is diverse, so check some of them out before making a final decision. Also, be sure to include your student(s) in the conversation.
All of the pre-meetings we attended before making a decision are wrapped up on the website now. Discover the core values of PA Virtual, meet the team, go to an online open house, check out our video library, hear from other parents, and even enroll.
The Beauty of School Choice
There is always beauty in choice. We made a yearly decision discussing pros and cons in a family meeting until our daughter was in 4th grade, and at that time we were confident we would stay. And it was here our daughter graduated. We believe for reasons already stated, this was a great fit for our family. We have not regretted this decision.
If you think cyber school may be a good fit for your family and want to learn more, check out our Ultimate Guide to Attending a Cyber School in PA.
About the Author: Cindy Dingeldein is a former PA Virtual parent and currently works at the school as a Parent Ambassador Regional Coordinator. Her daughter, Lexi Dingeldein, attended PA Virtual for all of grade school and graduated in 2017.