Wow, this has been one interesting school year to say the least. The 2019-2020 academic year was the first time in recent memory, perhaps ever, that schools across the nation had to shut down on campus facilities indefinitely and send students home to finish up the school year. 

In a matter of days, students and teachers had to shift away from in classroom experiences to learning through a computer. Some had their classes through Google video-conferencing and others Zoom. While a few schools were adequately able to navigate this crisis, a significant population of schools took weeks and even months to get a plan in place to help finish up the school year. 

If you ask many families, there were mixed results to this hodgepodge of transitioning to a new learning environment and not having the resources or the correct staff in place, with the experience necessary to make this a seamless transition. In one state multiple school districts handled the pandemic in different ways where one ended six weeks early because online learning proved to be too difficult for the student population and community to manage, while another finished up the school year like nothing had changed. 

Why the huge discrepancy?

Three Months – That’s more than a quarter of the school year students were at home. 

Fast forward to July – the new school year is fast approaching. What was your experience this past year? Did your children enjoy learning online? Was it a welcomed change or was it a challenge from the beginning?

Certainly it depends on how well your school pulled off this experiment. Knowing some students fell behind and others couldn’t even get off the ground, many schools are playing catchup this summer. But this isn’t in traditional classrooms, it’s still online. 

Some students are on pace and others are woefully behind. 

What do you do now? COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon. In all likelihood even if the beginning of the school year starts off without a hitch, at some point, your children are going to be back home and learning online. There is no way around this possibility. 

Instead of dwelling on this scenario, perhaps it’s time to take control of your child’s learning and to look at the best options available for your family’s situation.

With that in mind, here are five things you need to consider when you are looking for an online school that truly meets your needs.

Find a school that focuses only on online learning. 

That’s right, you aren’t going to go to a foot doctor for a broken arm, so why would you look at schools that aren’t trained or cater to the online learning environment? You’ve seen it firsthand not all schools are equal and even more when we shift away from the brick and mortar concept. It’s important to find an academic institution that focuses on best online practices and on educating the student in this manner. One more bit of advice, look for a school that is a school, not a business or a corporation. For profit places aren’t necessarily going to be student centered, but instead focused on numbers and making money. 

Curriculum Matters

While a school that teaches classes on Hogwarts or on Pokemon might be engaging, it might prove an issue when this crisis is over and your child wants to return to the old public school down the road. Knowing this, look for an online school that follows either national or state based standards that is aligned with the common core or with whatever is used in your home area. This way there is easy transferability in this unsettled time. If we are looking down the road to post high school options, a program that has college preparatory courses is even better.

Flexibility

Maybe this was a given but it’s more important than you think. To begin, does the school follow a traditional classroom schedule with specific class times each day or is it more open ended where a student can sign into the class at any time? If your child needs structure then the traditional schedule is the way to go, but otherwise the ability to learn the lesson at night as opposed to in the early morning might fit your child’s learning needs better. 

What structure is needed and what is the best schedule for your child to follow? When you know this, then finding a program with the better fit is ideal. Not to be left out, what is the availability of the teachers? If you want the ability to do your classwork at 2 in the morning after a round of video gaming, is a teacher available to help? Granted that might be difficult to find at any school, but knowing when there are resources available to teach, tutor, and help is vital to your child succeeding in this program.

Are the teachers any good?

Some schools look at their learning environment as a “plug and play” scenario where the teachers are nothing more than glorified graders. Interactions with students are simply through an exchange of emails and standardized format messages. That’s not necessarily going to help your child learn Earth Science or master World History. What you need to know and look for are those schools where the teachers are experienced and trained in their fields. Maybe they are certified or have an advanced degree in the subject area. The point is you don’t want just anyone teaching your child. You want teachers who have both traditional experience and online experience with a proven track record of student success who are student centered and flexible enough in the learning process to meet your child where they are academically. 

Will my child make friends?

We all want our children to meet other children and form bonds of friendship that help them manage life in the years to come. The question is will this online school be helpful in that “social development.” Again, not all online schools are created equal. Some are focused only on the academic side of things where students might not even interact with one another. However, there are some schools that make it a point to create a specific culture where students can come together in and outside of class time and make meaningful connections. These institutions have clubs, activities, and even virtual get-togethers. This might be important to consider when doing your research.

Granted there are other things you need to keep in mind when researching and finding your best online school. We didn’t even talk about the cost and how some schools are tuition free and others will be the price of a new car. Don’t let that deter you from looking. In the very least it’s another part of the equation to consider especially with the uncertainty of this upcoming school year. 

The key going forward is you now know the important things to look for and that’s a starting point. If you weren’t pleased with how the 2019-2020 school year ended, now is the time to act.

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