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A Parent’s Perspective: 5 Surprises about Switching to Cyber School

By: Beth Werrell

Last fall, Valerie Hofer enrolled her son “J” as a sixth grader in Commonwealth Connections Academy (CCA). In today’s guest post, she describes the five most surprising lessons she’s learned so far about cyber schooling.


Surprised cyber school family looking at a laptop.

As a first-time CCA parent, I wasn’t sure quite what to expect from my sixth-grader’s new school. I knew that our bricks-and-mortar school wasn’t working—either for him as a student or for us as a family. But that didn’t mean that switching to online schooling was right for us. I just knew we had to do something.

As the saying goes, I was hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. But what I learned in the first quarter is that I don’t need to worry about the worst, since I could not have imagined things working out better—for all of us. Here are five “lessons” that have surprised me the most about cyber schooling.

  1. My son has more opportunity to socialize than I ever could have imagined.

    When I first mentioned placing “J” in a cyber school (that’s how virtual school is generally referred to here in Pennsylvania), our friends and family were most concerned about the “lack of socialization.” (Of course, attending a bricks-and-mortar school doesn’t address every socialization concern, but that’s a topic in and of itself.)

    In the first three months of school, “J” has had well over half a dozen opportunities to meet with his classmates. He’s gone on educational trips and bowling meets, and he’s explored our local ...

How Virtual School Works for Military Families

By: Beth Werrell
military families and children

Between the frequent moves and stress of parental deployment, the children of our nation’s military families make many sacrifices. Often they’re the new kid on the block, adjusting to a new school and making all new friends. That’s why, in honor of the 1.8 million military kids in our country, the U.S. Department of Defense celebrates April as the Month of the Military Child.

Fortunately, with the additional option of virtual school available today, the one thing military children won’t need to give up is a quality education. Here are a few reasons why virtual schools can be an excellent solution for military families:

  • Portability. Depending upon your school, you may be able to continue with the same online school in a new location, avoiding a stressful transition. Public online schools like Connections Academy are available in many states, and private online schools like International Connections Academy are available across the country and worldwide.
  • Long-Distance Involvement. Virtual school means that lessons, assignments, and grades are all accessible online, so a parent stationed overseas can remain up-to-date and involved in his or her children’s education. This connection to the family’s daily life can help lift spirits and keep family ties strong during a period of separation.
  • Access to rigorous curriculum, exciting electives, and Honors and AP courses. Not all school districts are created equal. By enrolling in a high-quality online school, you can ensure your child receives a top-notch education filled with opportunities to explore his or her ...

4 Sample Daily Schedules for Virtual School Families

By: Beth Werrell

Many of the following scheduling ideas are inspired by Denise Kale, a Learning Coach from Arizona.

If you’ve wondered what a typical day of virtual school is like, you’re not alone! In fact, questions about the daily routine or schedule are probably the most common inquiries we receive. The irony of this type of question is that one of the most delightful things about virtual school is that there is no typical day!

Virtual school gives parents and Learning Coaches the flexibility to arrange their schedules to fit children’s needs and the family’s lifestyle. Naturally, there are some limits, such as regularly scheduled virtual classroom sessions and teacher conferences. And in high school, when courses become more challenging, the number of fixed-scheduled online classroom meetings increases. Within these limitations, online school families enjoy freedom from the typical “bell system” of traditional schools.

Sample Virtual School Schedule

But how does this freedom translate into a family’s lifestyle? Here are just a few samples of how having a more flexible daily schedule might work for various situations:

Sample Virtual School Schedule 1:

For some families, one lesson per day for each class works well. Here’s how one family uses this type of schedule for children of different ages and attention spans:

Jimmy, first grader
8:00 a.m. Breakfast, chores
9:00 a.m. Reading
10:00 a.m. Science
10:30 a.m. Education Technology or Art
11:00 a.m. Flexible school time, used for projects or learning activities
11:30 a.m. Recess
12:00 p.m. Lunch
12:30 p.m. Free time/play time...

Behind the Scenes: How Students Balance School and Acting

By: Beth Werrell
Aspiring Oscar Nominees Balance School and Acting with Virtual School

It’s Oscar weekend!

The 2013 Oscars begin this Sunday, February 24, at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, 4:00 p.m. Pacific. Actors, actresses, directors, costume designers, and more are up for awards for making films such as Lincoln, Life of Pi, and Les Misérables.

Among the nominees is Quvenzhané Wallis, who played the leading role of Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild. At the age of nine, she has become the youngest actress ever to receive a Best Actress nomination.

Quvenzhané’s situation is certainly extraordinary. Today’s young actors experience the excitement of auditioning, performing, traveling, and building their careers early in life. But their busy lifestyles usually don’t fit the steady routines of going to school.

A great solution to balancing school with a demanding acting career is to attend a virtual school. Because most learning is done on a computer, students in virtual schools can study at home or even away from home. Some of these aspiring Oscar nominees attend Connections Academy. Take a look at our list of students below to find out how they balance school and acting.

Riley Rydin

Riley is a 12-year-old sixth grader at Capistrano Connections Academy (CapoCA). Originally from Oregon, Riley now lives in North Hollywood with his parents and grandparents. He has acted on Disney shows such as Zeke and Luther and even had an appearance on Modern Family. During the week, Riley juggles schoolwork with auditions and spends his free time writing, swimming, and riding his bike....

Learning Coach Secrets: Creating Learning Schedules for Virtual School

By: Beth Werrell
Online school student studying at home. Alarm clock in the foreground.

Many of the following tips are inspired by Denise Kale, a Learning Coach from Arizona.

Although flexibility is one of the many strengths of virtual schooling, most experts agree that children benefit from having structure in their lives. Many virtual school families recommend establishing a routine for your school days. With an agreed-upon schedule, you and your student can predict your daily and weekly flow—no surprises, no arguments—so your student can focus on learning.

  1. What are your child’s natural tendencies and preferences? If your daughter is an early bird, you may want to plan to do her most challenging subjects early in the day, when she’s at her best. On the other hand, if your son is a night owl, you may want to arrange a later start time, with the more involved topics covered in the afternoon.
  2. What are your child’s favorite subjects? Some families prefer to get a positive start each day by beginning with a student’s favorite subject. Others place the favorite courses last, as an incentive for completing the rest.
  3. Everyone needs a break! Having a schedule will also help you remember that children—and adults—need breaks for physical activity, lunch, and play! Many Learning Coaches schedule “recess” immediately before lunch, so they can prepare the meal while the children play.
  4. Does your student have regularly scheduled events? Reserve times for your student’s piano lessons, sports team practices, doctor appointments, volunteer commitments, and other repeating events. Attending virtual school means you can arrange your flexible ...

Family Fitness Challenge: Keep Kids Moving toward a Healthy Future

By: Dan Reiner
Mother And Children Preparing A Healthy Meal

When starting a family health and fitness program (as we challenged readers to do earlier this month), it’s not unusual to encounter some obstacles or resistance. Maybe you think your kids tune you out when you talk about health. Perhaps you’ve already run out of fun ideas for physical activity. Or, what if your child just doesn’t like sports? Relax! We’ve gathered some outstanding resources to help you keep your family on the road to a healthy, active lifestyle—even when kids balk, schoolwork beckons, or a chill in the air keeps you indoors.

  • Kids Health offers advice for helping the non-athlete find enjoyable physical activities. Or visit WebMD for hints on choosing (and introducing) food and fitness ideas to kids in ways that will work with their personality traits. (WebMD also sponsors a Fit Kids site that offers tons of fun videos and tips for teaching kids about fitness and healthy eating.)

  • Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s BAM! (Body and Mind) site, designed to help children learn how to stay healthy. Kids can take a quiz to find activities they might enjoy, create their own fitness and activity calendar, and read stories about other kids who are working to improve their bodies and minds.

  • Teach your children about healthy physical activities and nutrition using the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Blast Off game. Kids pretend they are astronauts who “fuel their rockets” by selecting a healthy menu of foods and “charge their activity batteries” by choosing ...

5 Ways to Help Kids Stay Healthy and Active

By: Dan Reiner
family jogging together

With the new school year beginning, increased focus on academics and learning can shift a family’s attention from energetic, outdoor activities to a less active lifestyle of studying. Yet with the American Medical Association’s reporting that one in three American children is already overweight or obese, a sedentary lifestyle is a trend parents should help kids avoid.

The good news is that you can help keep your kids on track for healthy lives by promoting physical activity all year round. Exercise, which can include a child’s normal, energetic play, helps control weight, builds lean muscle, reduces fat, and promotes strong bone, muscle, and joint development. And as a virtual school family, you can use your flexible schedule to get outside and play when the sun is shining, even during the shorter days of autumn and winter. In recognition of National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, why not begin a family health and fitness program? Here are some great ways to get started.

  1. Set a Positive Example
    If your children see you glued to the game console or polishing off bags of chips, they’re likely to resist any efforts you make to sway them toward a healthy lifestyle. Make a plan for gradually introducing your family to healthier food and snack choices. Then show them you mean business by kicking off your own activity program first. If you lead by example, your kids will be more likely to join in the fun.

  2. Establish Healthy Goals
    The American Academy ...

Back to Virtual School: A New Year Full of Memories

By: Dan Reiner
Connections Academy online students excited about first day back to school

The beginning of the school year brings excitement for families in virtual schools across the country. But why are they so excited? What makes the start of a school year different for students in an online school? And what makes the experience rewarding for their families?

The answer is simple: virtual school families have more control over their daily learning schedules, as well as over their learning environments. Along with this control, parents gain the flexibility to integrate the family’s life into their children’s education—and enjoy the rewards of seeing their children learn and grow daily. And, with the flexibility to adjust daily schedules to more closely match the learning style and pace that work best for them, students often gain the opportunity to savor and explore the aspects of their education that interest them most, while developing a passion for learning that will stay with them for life. Imagine the possibilities when students have the flexibility on an “ordinary school day” to…

  1. Take time to make—and enjoy—breakfast with the family.
  2. Read outside on a beautiful autumn morning.
  3. Gain valuable real-life experience by interning at a local company—during regular business hours.
  4. Walk the dog between lessons.
  5. Interview a local personality for a project over lunch.
  6. Jam with friends on a favorite instrument, between history and math.
  7. Attend the virtual classroom from the coffee shop—or while on a family trip.
  8. Explore a local museum for the afternoon to dig deeper into an interesting aspect of state history.
  9. Go out for ice ...

Why Student Athletes Choose the Virtual School Advantage

By: Dan Reiner
Aspiring Olympians Go for Gold with Virtual School

If you’ve watched any television coverage of the 2012 Olympic Games, you’ve probably noticed that some of the aspiring medalists are school-aged kids. Did you ever wonder how these youthful world-class competitors manage the demands of school, training, and international competition? In increasing numbers, student athletes like Jordan Windle, a 13-year-old student at our online school in Indiana and the youngest diver to qualify for the Olympic trials, are turning to virtual schools to meet their educational needs. Here are just a few of the many reasons why athletes and their parents are opting for this innovative learning environment.

  1. Virtual school accommodates a rigorous training schedule. Often, elite athletes must be ready to train when the coach, pool, rink, playing field, or gymnasium is available—which may conflict with a traditional school schedule. Virtual school students can adapt their learning schedules around their sports and other obligations, doing schoolwork when it works best for them.

  2. Students can pursue a quality education—and their dreams! Attending virtual school makes it possible for ambitious athletes to have it all. With the right online school, they can keep up with academics and work toward acceptance to an excellent college, without sacrificing their goals of trophies, gold medals, and championship victories.

  3. Athletes can attend school from any location. With a laptop and an Internet signal, online students can study anywhere! Athletes have been known to complete lessons at home, on a plane or bus, in a hotel, or in a gym or locker room. ...

Start Your 365 Day Family Fun Challenge

By: Dan Reiner
fun hula hoop family activity in the park

If you’re a virtual school or homeschool family, you’ve already taken a huge step toward spending quality time together as a family. Why not take an enjoyable next step and make a “365 days of family fun” pledge? That’s what one Connections Academy family started in 2011—and completed successfully in June 2012—with great results!

Inspired by her neighbor, Alana Greene of Buford, Georgia, challenged her husband and four children, ages 8 to 12, to join her in doing something fun and new every day for a year. With the flexibility of online education, the family could schedule schoolwork around community events, day trips, and other family outings. As they shared activities, laughter, and learning, the “Greene Team” reinforced their close relationships and built a congenial spirit of teamwork within their family.

Visit the Greene family blog, and you’ll see that while most of their ideas were free or low cost, the fun and memories they created were priceless. Here are some general ideas to help you and your kids start brainstorming your own unique and creative activities for family fun!

  1. Get active and get outdoors. The Greene Team roller skated, scootered, swam, hiked, danced, and Hula-Hooped their way through the year. Your family might prefer bowling, putt-putt golf, tennis, basketball, jumping rope, or flashlight tag. Keep in mind that many community and recreation centers offer free or low-cost ways to learn new sports and fitness activities. You can also find creative ideas for outdoor activities on Pinterest....

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