Virtual School Students Making Headlines in the 2014–15 School Year

By: Beth Werrell
Virtual School Students Making Headlines

From cyber-sleuthing to competing on American Idol, Connections Academy students across the country made headlines this school year. So settle down for an inspiring read today as we recap just a few of their achievements for 2014–2015.

Connections Academy Students Stand Out

With the flexibility to pursue their talents, our online students put in hours of hard work to excel in the sciences, performing arts, sports, and their communities.

In the Sciences . . .

  • Four students in our Science and Technology Academy program gained honors for their cybersecurity skills. Earning first place in the top-ranking tier of their division during the CyberPatriot VII National Youth Cyber Defense Competition State Round were Evan Tonkin (Commonwealth Connections Academy), Ashley Wright and Miguel Hoch (both from Texas Connections Academy @ Houston), and Alex Hardin (Arizona Connections Academy).

  • Eleven-year-old Ria Cheruvu, Arizona Connections Academy's 2015 valedictorian, will be taking neurobiology and artificial-intelligence courses through the Harvard Extension School this summer. Ria says she plans to eventually become "one of the pioneers in neural cryptography."

  •  Courtney Thurston, Commonwealth Connections Academy valedictorian and captain of last year's winning Real World Design Challenge team, was named one of Best and Brightest Class of 2015 by the Patriot News and PennLive.

In the Performing Arts . . .

Several Connections Academy students made their marks on local and national stages:

Summer Weather Experiments for the Family

By: Beth Werrell

Take advantage of the warm weather and teach your child about rain, the sun's rays, rainbows, and weather patterns. Here, we've gathered fun, grade-appropriate experiments based on ease and safety. Pick one or try them all!

Weather Experiments for 6–8 Learners

This decorative wind experiment is perfect for a summer holiday activity, like a birthday, the Fourth of July, or another summer celebration. Teach your child about wind science with the step-by-step pinwheel instructions below.

Bake outside using the heat from the sun. In this activity, you will need a pizza box or other cardboard container, aluminum foil, and common household items. This activity involves a lot of cutting and taping until you have shaped your homemade oven. Make s'mores. If you have more time to wait, then bake cookies! Explain to your child that the oven works by collecting the shorter wavelengths from the sun and trapping them, which is also known as the greenhouse effect.

Make it rain in a jar. Since this experiment involves boiling water and hammering small indentations into a jar lid, make sure you are around to supervise. This activity provides your child with a visual representation of rain on a smaller scale, which is easier to digest. As the cold surface of the lid cools the evaporating water, the vapor collects at the top of the jar and forms back into a liquid.

The old "suck an egg into a bottle" experiment...

Free Printable Pet Trivia Questions for Kids and Parents

By: Beth Werrell

Considering adopting a pet for your family? Put down the pro–con list. Pets can be extremely beneficial to your child's growth and development. Consider some of the advantages of pet ownership listed below, and then download our pet trivia game for a fun way to learn more about animals.

Pets and Physical Activity

Active pets, such as dogs, need physical activity, so your child will likely become more active, or stay active, with a pet. Just make sure that he or she is pitching in. Create an activity calendar, or add activities with your pet to an existing calendar, so that your child knows what is expected each day. Schedule activities like runs, walks, or playtime so that your pet is sure to get the attention it deserves.

Pets and Life Lessons

Owning a pet can be emotionally trying through certain periods, but these are the times when your child may learn some crucial life lessons about death, illness, and mourning. These can be difficult concepts for child to grasp, but learning these lessons early will allow your child to develop coping mechanisms.

Pets and Responsibility

Pets take care and attention. Teach your child responsibility by assigning him or her pet-related chores, such as cleaning the litter box, refilling your pet's water, or taking your pet for a walk. Keep your child on a schedule and show him or her the value of taking care of another living being. The emotional connection to a pet ...

6 Free Father’s Day Gift Ideas for Kids

By: Stephanie Osorno
Father's Day Gift Ideas for Kids

Parents deserve a pat on the back for the countless things that they do for their children on a daily basis. We especially praise the parents amongst the virtual school community for not only being loving moms and dads, but also for serving as supportive Learning Coaches.

A parent holiday, such as the upcoming Father’s Day holiday, is a great opportunity for sons and daughters to show their parents appreciation. Since kids might not be able to purchase a gift on their own, we have some other ways that they can say thank you on Father’s Day!

  1. Write a letter.
    It can be tough for anyone to verbally express their feelings, but it might be even more difficult for children who are still learning about their emotions. Instead, children can express themselves by writing a special letter to Dad. He will be able to keep the letter forever and reread it as much as he would like. And it doesn’t have to be a formal letter. Kids of all ages can list all of the reasons why they love and appreciate their father. Dad will treasure this sweet gesture!

  2. Make a craft.
    You can never go wrong with a homemade craft! Gifts tend to be more meaningful when they’re handmade rather than store-bought. If the student isn’t very crafty, Mom can provide some assistance and reassure the child that the gift doesn’t have to be anything too complicated. Even if it’s a simple drawing, it will ...

Olympian Lyndsey Fry Inspires Virtual School Grads

By: Beth Werrell
US Olympian Salutes the Class of 2015

When the first graduating class from TEC Connections Academy Commonwealth Virtual School (TECCA) gathered at UMass Boston to celebrate, Olympic silver medalist Lyndsey Fry was there—virtually—to congratulate and inspire them! The inaugural class of twelve students from across Massachusetts attended the commencement ceremony on Friday, June 12.

Lyndsey, who earned a silver medal as a member of the women's ice hockey team at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games, served as the commencement speaker via video. As a 2010 Arizona Connections Academy graduate and a recent graduate of Harvard University, Lyndsey is well acquainted with both virtual school and the Boston area.

When she made the U18 National Hockey Team in her junior year of high school, Lyndsey's family realized that she really needed a school that could accommodate all of the traveling that was required. "Online school is not for everyone; however, it is the answer we were searching for to help me reach my goals," Lyndsey remarks. "You have to go the extra mile to learn things on your own, and I think that's really helped me. It requires dedication, organization, and sacrifices, but it has all been worth it."

Lyndsey Fry's Inspiring 2015 TECCA Commencement Speech

In her speech to graduates, Lyndsey shared her experience with online school and discussed how the flexible scheduling allowed her to play competitive ice hockey without missing out on a high-quality education. Watch her video to see the full speech.


Having trouble seeing? Try going directly to YouTube.

What insights and ...

8 Most Common Questions Parents Ask Teachers about Virtual School

By: Stephanie Osorno
8 Questions Parents Ask Virtual School Teachers

Starting or even considering something new, such as a new virtual school for your child, can be a bit nerve-wracking. If you find yourself with a growing list of questions, don't worry, you're not alone! Many other parents are wondering about the same things.

To help ease your mind, we've compiled a brief Q & A with commonly asked questions teachers receive from parents who are researching this exciting and rewarding way to educate students from home!

Curriculum and Online Work

Q: Is the curriculum Common Core–based?
A: The virtual school curriculum includes language arts/English, math, science, and social studies courses for each grade. The curriculum is adjusted according to state-specific requirements, so if your state has adopted the Common Core State Standards, the curriculum will be adjusted to meet them.

Q: Is all of the schoolwork completed online?
A: The amount of schoolwork completed online depends on the student's grade level. In general, elementary school students mostly complete offline work, with opportunities to use manipulatives and to do other hands-on activities. Middle school students complete a blend of on- and offline work as they transition to being more independent. High school students who have become more independent learners complete mainly online work.

Teacher Availability and Extra Help

Q: How available are teachers for students who may need extra help? How much individual time, if any, is given to the student?
A: Online teachers are dedicated to helping each student succeed. For example, when a student begins ...

5 Strategies to Inspire Curiosity in Students

By: Tracy Ostwald-Kowald
5 Strategies to Inspire Student Curiosity

"I think, at a child's birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity." —Eleanor Roosevelt

Think about the last time a book, movie, or conversation sparked your curiosity. When something ignites your curiosity, regions of your brain associated with reward, memory, and motivation actually "fire up" with activity. In other words, curiosity can be a great motivator that makes the brain sincerely want to learn. Researchers from the University of California, Davis, suggests a link between motivation and curiosity as discovered in 2014 when they set out to understand how curiosity affects learning.

Practical Tips to Inspire Student Curiosity

This research reminds parents, Learning Coaches, and teachers how crucial it is to engage our students' curiosity every day. Consider these five strategies you can use to inspire curiosity in school and beyond:

  1. Be curious yourself. Model an open, inquisitive attitude to new and familiar activities, ideas, people, and cultures. Curiosity is contagious. Try a new sport, start a new hobby, or take an online course in an unfamiliar subject. Seek out people with different backgrounds and viewpoints, and then actively listen to what they have to say. As you take on these new challenges, share your experience with your student—the excitement, the rewards, and the challenges. In the process, you’ll inspire your student to tackle new subjects and persevere through the initial discomfort that often comes with learning something unfamiliar.

  2. Ask questions and ...

Differences between Public and Private Online School Explained

By: Beth Werrell
Online Private School vs. Public School

If you've been researching home education options for your child, you may have noticed that the availability of online learning options varies widely from state to state. While state legislation continues to play a critical role in providing access to public online course options, digital learning is emerging not only in private school course catalogs, but also with the introduction of fully online private schools. While to many parents, this is an unfamiliar idea, online private school is an excellent choice for some families. The following summarizes the primary differences between public and private online schools—and some of the many reasons why you may want to consider enrolling your child in an online private school.

  1. Residency and Stability—While online public schools require students to live within certain geographical boundaries, an online private school, such as International Connections Academy (iNaCA), may be available in any state, as well as outside of the country. Some families opt for virtual private school simply because a public online program is not available in their area. For families that relocate often for employment or military duty overseas, choosing online private school helps ensure that their child receives a complete, high-quality, uninterrupted education.

    "iNaCA is wonderful and has many advantages. All of the teachers are great, and you make friends instantly. You can work at your own pace and study how you want."Mallory, a ninth grade student who attends International Connections Academy from Brazil

  2. Affordable Tuition—Just like bricks-and-mortar private schools, online ...

How Alice in Wonderland Changed Children’s Literature

By: Muffie Sandberg
Summer Reading Adventures with Classic Stories

One summer day long ago, an English mathematician went on a quiet river outing with an Oxford dean and his three young daughters. To entertain the girls, the mathematician spun a fantastical tale of another little girl who dreamt that she’d fallen down a rabbit hole, entering a topsy-turvy world inhabited by an execution-happy queen, a mad hatter, a tardy rabbit, a vanishing cat, and a host of improbable but unforgettable characters.

That tale was Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland—and 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of its publication. In honor of Alice's "birthday," we thought our own summer readers would want to know how Alice is still shaping what and how we read today.

Reading for Enjoyment

Before the publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in 1865, children's books (such as they were) focused on moral instruction and academic basics. The language could be dull and moralistic, with children's characters resembling miniature adults more than real-life kids like the inquisitive and oft-annoyed Alice.

"'Tut, tut, child!' said the Duchess. 'Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it.'"

But Lewis Carroll and Alice changed all that, moving entertainment to the forefront and moralizing to the background. (As Carroll and his duchess character suggest, the moral is still there, but you may have to search to find it.) Placing the child at the center of the story's action, Carroll launched a golden age of children’s literature and even helped change how society viewed childhood.

Thanks in part ...

Planning Your High School Graduation Party on a Budget

By: Beth Werrell

There's a lot that goes into planning a high school graduation party, but it doesn't have to be overwhelming. We've gathered some budget ideas to help you and your graduate plan for this memorable graduation milestone without breaking the bank.

Graduate Memory Board

If you've ever attended a graduation party, you've probably seen a table or poster board covered in pictures and keepsakes of the graduate. Creating a memory board is a great way to bring your family together for this important occasion and to celebrate your graduate's success as a virtual high school student. We've put together a step-by-step guide to creating your own memory board, with a twist. Your graduate can use this as a centerpiece at his or her graduation party and have your guests participate by bringing mementos to add to the board. After the party, your graduate can take the board home or hang it in his or her new college dorm room in the fall. Click the image below for full instructions.

Graduation Party Invitations

Don't overthink the graduation party invitations, especially when trying to keep costs down. Your guests will be excited just to get an invite. A good way to stay on a budget is to find a free graduation party invitation template online and create your invitations using the tools provided. If there is no space for a photo on the invitation and you'd like to include one, then slip the picture in the ...

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