With the start of the New Year and the upcoming semester, some parents may be thinking about changing their child’s education. My daughter Emily is a sixth grader at Oregon Connections Academy, an online public school. Friends at church, at my daughter’s scouting program, and many others are curious about our switch to the online school and often ask me about our experience. Here are some of their most frequent questions:
Why did you enroll your daughter in online school?
We wanted a school where Emily could work at her own pace and where we could have a more active role in her education. When she was a toddler, we noticed she was smart and enjoyed learning. After enrolling Emily in traditional preschool and kindergarten, we discovered the teachers wanted all students learning at the same pace, regardless of their abilities. Oregon Connections Academy allows students like Emily to move ahead if they’re ready or need to be challenged.
How’s your experience as an online school parent?
Having a front row seat to my daughter’s education is wonderful because I’ve witnessed those moments when she’s learned something new or when she’s faced challenges. Emily struggled with reading when she started first grade. As her “Learning Coach”, I worked with Emily’s teacher who was able to offer her additional supports, including a special animated computer program. Within a month Emily became more confident with her reading skills.
Is this different than homeschooling?
Since Kindergarten I knew I wanted to be more involved in Emily’s education, but I preferred a structured program where I could support her development. Unlike homeschooling, online school is laid out with an easy-to-follow curriculum, and Emily’s lessons are taught by state-certified teachers who hold live online classes several times each week. Since it’s a public school, enrollment is free and materials were shipped right to our front door. For me, having a program that is already figured out seemed a lot easier than traditional homeschooling.
What’s a typical day like?
People envision online school as kids sitting in front of a computer all day, but that’s not the case. While tests and lessons are completed on the computer, students spend a fair amount of time studying from physical textbooks, working on science experiments, or creating art projects. Emily also shifts from one subject to another, or takes breaks throughout the day, so she learns at the best pace for her.
What’s been the biggest benefit for your family?
Flexibility! Emily’s participated in many different extracurricular activities like theater, dance, guitar, gymnastics, youth group, and scouting. A couple years ago, rehearsals for a big play were scheduled 15 hours per week, but Emily was able to complete assignments on evenings or weekends. The flexibility of online school allows her to succeed academically and still participate in her activities.
Oregon Connections Academy also allows Emily to do schoolwork just about anywhere. For a few years my husband’s job required a lot of travel, so we tagged along with our books and laptop. Emily was not only able to stay on top of her classes, she also learned about the places we visited.
Have there been challenges?
The biggest challenge was when we first started and I was learning the program and what was expected of me as a parent. The nice thing is the school offers parent mentors to help new families becoming familiar with the program. There are also online trainings and outreach sessions available for new parents to ask other families about any problems or questions.
How does your child socialize with other kids?
When Emily was at her previous school, she came home several times per week in tears because of bullying. I understand that bullying happens, but as parents we have the responsibility to make our child’s learning environment as safe as possible.
With our online school’s flexible schedule, she now has more opportunities to socialize with her friends at extracurricular activities. Emily also meets up with classmates at the school’s many in-person field trips, and stays connected with friends until they see each other again.
What advice would you give a family considering switching to online school?
Switching to online school requires more commitment from parents compared to having kids in bricks-and-mortar school. When Emily was younger she also needed more oversight from me, but as she gets older she’s more independent and works more directly with her teachers.
If your child is struggling in their current school, or isn’t getting enough one-on-one attention, then online school may be a good option. Changing schools mid-year is challenging but Oregon Connections Academy teachers want your child to succeed and they’ll make the transition as smooth as possible. If you’re thinking about switching, I say go for it!
Nafeesa Pascu is the mother and Learning Coach to Emily Pascu, a sixth grade student at Oregon Connections Academy. Nafeesa has been married to her wonderful husband Chris for 17 years. The family lives in Troutdale with their two Goldendoodles. Nafeesa is originally from Guyana and her husband from Romania. When she’s not busy shuttling Emily from one extracurricular program to another, you might find her volunteering at her church. Nafeesa loves to cook, craft, and travel with the family. To learn more about Oregon Connections Academy go to OregonConnectionsAcademy.com or call 800-382-6010