Why PA Virtual Parents Started Looking for a Charter School
It’s been over 20 years since school choice legislation was passed in Pennsylvania, and with over 150 charter and cyber charter schools in the state, parents now have more choices for their child’s education than ever. The reasons parents begin looking for a charter school can be as different as families themselves, but in the end, there is one common denominator: something in their current school situation isn’t working for them. Charter schools allow parents to make a choice that better suits their needs and the needs of their child.
While families do have a wide variety of reasons they choose a charter school, at PA Virtual, we've noticed a handful of reasons that have been brought up over and over again in the past 20 years that we've been operating. This blog explores the top 6 reasons families come to us: Bullying, Struggling Learners, Advanced Learners, Health Needs, Safety, and Parent Involvement.
What is a Charter School?
Before delving into the list, it’s worth taking a moment to define what a charter school is (and isn’t). A charter school is a public school and is therefore monitored by the state Department of Education. Just like your local public school, charter schools are funded by taxpayer dollars, so there is no tuition required.
What makes charter schools different than other public schools is their unique mission statement. Some schools focus on specific areas such as arts, technology, STEM, or service. At PA Virtual, our focus is on the partnership between parent and school—parents are heavily involved in their student’s education in our model. Innovation is also a key aspect of charter schools, as they try new approaches to learning, new curriculum, and new technology. If you’d like to learn more about charter schools, be sure to check out our blog Why Do Parents Prefer Charter Schools? or the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s website.
Reason 1: Bullying
Bullying can be a sensitive and emotional topic for students, parents, and educators to tackle. It’s unfortunately a common concern we hear from parents looking into PA Virtual for their child. When the problem of bullying at their current school hasn’t been solved, parents look for a different solution.
For PA Virtual Parent Amber Love, concerns about her oldest child (now in 7th grade) started her search.
“My oldest was struggling academically and emotionally in her brick-and-mortar school. She was being bullied and was completely uninterested in learning,” she said.
A change in environment can sometimes work wonders. Just being around different peers can help, and some charter schools offer smaller classes, where teachers can better monitor students throughout the day. Cyber charter schools allow the student to remain in their home environment where parents can be more aware of interactions and teachers can use technology to closely watch student interactions in virtual classrooms. For the Love Family, now with 3 students enrolled at PA Virtual, the change has made a huge difference.
“All 3 of our children have grown leaps and bounds since enrolling! They love their teachers and have enthusiasm about learning and growing in every way,” Amber said.
To learn more about the signs that your child may be being bullied, check out this article from All Pro Dad.
Reason 2: Struggling Learners
More and more we hear that education cannot be a “one-size-fits-all” proposition. Children (and adults!) learn in different ways and need different kinds of support and guidance. For the Kaplan family, their son needed a whole different education option to meet his needs.
“Our child is an asynchronous developer and doesn't fit comfortably within any one group of age peers. We needed an environment that allowed him to learn and develop at his own pace while receiving support to help him navigate the gap between. We were told that environment didn't exist, but it does. PA Virtual allows him to move at his own pace academically, find peers that he relates to socially, and receive the support that he needs to navigate through his day.” -Kaplan family
Learners who struggle in a traditional public school may need resources that a charter school can provide, like smaller class sizes, innovative practices, and individualized learning plans. At PA Virtual, we offer drop-in homework help, tutoring, and teacher office hours, and parents provide 1-on-1 attention for their student throughout the school day.
To learn more about the 4 Learning Styles, check out our blog, How Cyber School Can Support Diverse Learning Styles.
Reason 3: Advanced Learners
Just like struggling learners have important needs, advanced learners may have needs that local public schools aren’t able to meet. As previously mentioned, some charter schools focus on specific areas like art or science and can provide unique opportunities to students who want to explore those subjects at a more advanced level. Charter school flexibility and innovation may allow students to pursue subjects outside the traditional curriculum. And some charter schools, like PA Virtual, have early graduation programs, so advanced students can pursue their post-high school plans a year earlier.
Reason 4: Health Needs
For students who have challenging health concerns, cyber charter schools in particular can be an ideal option. Because students remain in their home environment, parents can monitor their health needs and provide medications, therapies, and modifications with little or no disruption to learning. The flexibility of the schedule here at PA Virtual can also make doctor’s appointments easier to manage.
For the Wilson Family, the cyber option with PA Virtual was an ideal fit.
“Our son was diagnosed with IBD (Ulcerative Colitis) at 2 ½ years old. When it came time for kindergarten, we knew we had to find an alternative to brick and mortar. We selected PA Virtual because it was very accommodating - the perfect fit for all of us.” -Wilson family
Now in 9th grade, their son is still able to manage his health concerns while also receiving a quality education.
To learn more about how cyber schools deliver flexibility to their students, check out our blog, Cyber Schools: Asynchronous vs. Synchronous - What’s the Difference?
Reason 5: Safety
School safety is something that has weighed heavily on the minds of most parents over the past few years. As brick-and-mortar schools do their best to ensure the protection of their students, faculty, and staff, some parents simply feel the safest place for their child is at home. Like many families, safety was a big concern for the Lightcaps, a PA Virtual family for nearly 10 years.
“We chose PA Virtual so my daughter would have a safe place to learn.” -Lightcap family
Cyber charter schools help parents address their safety concerns, yet they do not do so by sacrificing students’ socialization needs. Many cyber charter schools, like PA Virtual, provide live classes, outings, and online clubs so students can interact with their peers.
To learn more about socialization at PA Virtual, check out the Socialization and Service Learning page of our website.
Reason 6: Parent Involvement
So many parents want to be more involved in their child’s learning, and that can be challenging in a traditional brick-and-mortar school. With cyber schools in particular, parents have the opportunity to be involved in every moment of their child’s day, supporting them through challenging moments and celebrating the breakthroughs. Cyber parents don’t need to ask, “What did you learn at school today?” They are there and have access to all of their child’s plans, curriculum, teachers, classes, reports, and grades!
For PA Virtual Parent Jen Weaver, her goal was to find a school where she could “watch [her student] grow and thrive and…have a say in the way [he] was and is taught.” The Weavers have been a PA Virtual Family for 4 years and the rewards of the cyber model have been more than academic.
“[Our student] has a voice and a mind and the opportunity to be able to be who he is,” she said. “What has most surprised us is how much of a family we have become through this experience! We feel like we have made a difference.”
Trick Question: Travel
Many of the families who contact us at PA Virtual are interested in a cyber charter school because they plan to travel as a family and want to continue their child’s education. Travel did not make the main list, however, because families who travel outside the state are NOT eligible to enroll with PA Virtual. As mentioned above, charter schools—including cyber charter schools—are public schools, funded by PA tax dollars. Therefore, students receiving a public education must actually be in the state while receiving such education.
The good news is that there are private options for families who want to ensure their child receives a solid education, without worrying about location requirements. K12 Inc., the curriculum company used by PA Virtual, is one company that provides private options. You can learn more about those here.
You Have Choices
Whether your concerns are the same as the families mentioned here or not, you have choices when it comes to your child’s education. Charter schools can be a great alternative to traditional public schools, so don’t be afraid to reach out and learn more about the schools available in your area. If you’d like to learn more about PA Virtual Charter School, you can request more information here.