My husband and I had never ever in a million years planned to homeschool our children. Our reasons were simple: we knew little about curriculums, knew even less about what children should learn at each grade level, and we both work full time. Then special needs struck and we found ourselves with a child who was always playing catch up or dealing with the school’s homebound program that only had to provide an hour of tutoring a week which didn’t really seem like enough to us when we still wanted a quality education. We did a little (read hours and hours) of research on curriculum and state standards and all of those things and realized we just had no idea where or how to begin. We needed flexibility and were worried that we already had to put our child through so much medically at home that we didn’t know if we could be the “bad guy” and handle the hard core grading.
And then one of those annoying email advertisements happened and we found the light at the end of the tunnel. The answer for us: public virtual schools. Availability varies by state and state law on charter schools but some of the more well-known programs are Calvert , K12, and Connections Academy. In most states these schools are considered free public education; in states where they are currently not considered a free public option, the programs are available on a tuition basis. Because I only have experience with Connections Academy (CA), that is the program that I am going to focus my discussion around. I’m sure that every school has its own merits and each family should fully investigate their options before making a decision.
The enrollment process is similar to a brick and mortar school. You need to provide birth certificates, proof of residency, past report cards if available, physician reports, and so on. There is an option to complete a financial disclosure if you would like to try to qualify for a computer and stipend fo r internet costs. CA does accept and accommodate IEPS, 504 plans, and can conduct any necessary evaluations for children who don’t yet have a special education plan in place.
Once enrolled students can be placed solely in their grade level or they can qualify by subject. For example, my son is a first grader but does exceptionally well at math. He will be starting second grade math this month. Students and parents are able to schedule classes in a way that best fits their schedule and student’s learning style with the only requirement being that you must complete the state required number of hours a week. The beauty for us is that we can work in the evenings or weekends if someone has had an off day, appointments, or there was a special outing that we wanted to take. Last year my daughter found it helpful to schedule her lessons in chunks so that she spent Monday on her week’s math lessons, Tuesday on science, and so on. Live lessons are available for additional lessons, tutoring, teacher office hours, or services like speech therapy. There are regularly “fun” live lessons scheduled where the kids can interact with their peers.
Most materials are provided for you including all textbooks, workbooks, cds/dvds, art supplies, physical education supplies, science materials, math manipulatives, a headset with microphone, and any other materials as necessary for the grade and subjects being completed. You will occasionally have to supplement science experiments with materials commonly found around the house. It is important to remember that many of the supplies will need to be returned at the end of the school year but they supply the box, packing materials, and cover shipping costs.
Work in the form of portfolios or assessments can be submitted electronically or through the mail depending on your preference. Teacher phone calls are established for several times a month although you are always able to reach your teacher by phone or webmail. Most assessments are taken from home although state testing will be scheduled at several locations throughout the state.
Each month optional field trips are scheduled throughout the state. The children don’t have to participate but if they chose to it can be a fun way to meet other families while being involved in a variety of activities ranging from dances to art museums. There are dozens of clubs or extracurricular activities (examples: chess, photography, yearbook, honor society, philanthropy, art, debate) to choose from and it is possible to get permission to participate in activities or sports from your local school district. Gifted and honor programs are also available along with a full spectrum of special education services.
We have been incredibly pleased with both children’s quality of education and just as important they both love the program. I’d love to answer any questions you might have so feel free to ask in the comments or contact me!