5 Questions to Ask When Considering a Virtual School

4 min to read
Parent working with child using laptop for online school

Among the difficult decisions parents make, choosing the right school—or learning method—is often near the top of the list. With the growing number of options available, it’s important to explore each possibility and ask the right questions for schools before you make a plan for your child’s education, especially if you’re considering online school.

What Is Online School?

Tuition-free online public schools, like Connections Academies, are fully virtual, K-12 schools with a curriculum designed by experts and delivered by teachers who are specially trained to teach online. It’s a well-rounded experience that empowers each student to learn the way they learn best.

Learn more: “How Does Online School Work?”

5 Questions to Ask Online Schools and Yourself

Here are some school questions to ask to help you determine if  is a good fit for your family:

1. Why are you seeking an alternative educational method?

The first step in considering an alternate education method is to clearly define your family’s overall educational goals. This will help you better understand if a particular virtual school will work for you and your children. Are you looking for a more challenging curriculum? Greater control of your child’s education? Increased scheduling flexibility? Acceptance into a four-year college? Take some time to reflect on your goals as a family before you jump into the process.

2. Will the online school meet your child’s individual needs?

Every child has their own unique learning preference. Does your elementary-age child perform better with hands-on lessons? Is your child an auditory learner who needs extra time to complete reading assignments? Perhaps your child requires an accelerated pace for some subjects but not for others. When evaluating what questions to ask online schools, consider what options are available for personalizing your child’s learning experience and help them thrive.

3. Does the online school offer a high-quality curriculum?

Another important add to your list of questions for school: What type of curriculum do they offer? Online public schools like Connections Academy are required to meet state and national education standards. Beyond these benchmarks, most parents also want a curriculum to challenge and prepare their children for success in life. Be sure to look for an online learning program that is accredited regionally and by AdvancED, the world’s largest education community and premier accreditation organization. Additionally, look for a school with a curriculum that:

  • Builds a solid foundation in core courses like reading, writing, and mathematics
  • Develops 21st-century critical-thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Uses high-quality materials from leading educational publishers
  • Engages students with interactive learning tools and other creative resources
  • Offers opportunities for gifted and talented, honors, and AP classes if your child needs additional challenge

4. Will the school provide opportunities to succeed and grow offline?

Kids need a well-rounded learning experience with opportunities to experience success and a sense of accomplishment, so look for a school that integrates hands-on projects like painting, playing music, building things, and conducting experiments into academic lessons. A virtual school should also offer a variety of ways for classmates to connect socially, as well as a robust program of extracurricular activities, community activities, and field trips.

5. Are you prepared for direct involvement in your child’s education?

Before deciding to enroll a child in an online school, parents should give serious thought to the level of involvement required. Take into account how much time you are able to spend monitoring and coaching your child’s online education. You may want to talk to other parents about their experiences with online learning—and be sure to ask more online school questions about training and support for families.

Consider these five school questions to ask when deciding if online school is right for your family. And if you’re still on the fence, check out this quiz: “Is Virtual School Right for My Child?”

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  • Parent-Tested Advice for Online School Success, Part 1

    by Connections Academy

    Asian parents with their little girl doing homework.

    With online school, parent involvement is key! Serving as the student’s Learning Coach, a parent or other trusted adult supports the child’s learning and enjoys a front-row seat to witness those "aha!" moments. Initially, many parents wonder if an ordinary person without teaching experience can do this—and the answer is yes!

    While online school usually means doing school at home, one way it’s different from traditional homeschooling is that there are teachers who do the teaching. Depending upon your child’s age, supporting a child’s education may mean things like structuring the daily schedule, providing reminders, communicating with teachers, and keeping the student on track to complete courses on time, but every family does this a bit differently! Check out the advice below, given by parents who are already giving their children the advantages of a personalized virtual school education.

    Have the right mind-set

    Many parents believe that having the right attitude can make a big difference in finding your family’s "groove" in virtual school.

    "Take each day as it comes. Stay consistent and open-minded. Listen to your kiddo, and value this time and their feedback. Be willing to be flexible, but set limits." —Sheila L.
    "Have patience with yourself first!" —Amanda V.

    "As a Learning Coach, be open to learning alongside your student! Every day, mundane activities can be new teaching/learning opportunities! One last thing: never be afraid to ask for help. We’ve all got to start somewhere!" —Nikki G.

    "Don’t panic and don’t overthink. You can make something simple turn into something complicated quickly." —Cristy R.

    "Give your children the attention they deserve to move forward and to understand why they are attending school." —Shelley F.

    "Stay consistent, laugh a lot, remember why you chose schooling from home, and stay organized." —Sherry B.

    "Allow your children to go at their own pace. Just provide the best learning environment and let them discover their best way to learn!" —Jeannette

    "Understand that your student is not a cookie-cutter version of all other students—each one will be unique in his or her learning style and successes. Have fun, take breaks, and make sure you are all finding things you enjoy!" —Jennifer S.

    "Mix it up. One of the big plusses to using online school is the freedom and the time to add what we want. Trips to local museums, wildlife refuges, YouTube videos, community projects—so many things we can use to keep our students engaged and help them to apply and retain the information they are going over." —Andy and Rachel

    Be prepared!

    Advance preparation isn’t just for Boy Scouts—it’s the best policy for Learning Coaches, too.

    "Set up a separate room/area just for school. Be very organized, and use visuals, such as calendars, daily reminders, a dry-erase board, etc. Make the learning environment bright and interesting. Keep up with attendance and checking off assignments daily. Organize, organize, organize; it makes things go so much smoother." —Kelly S. C.

    "I always set aside Friday night to pull all the lessons for the next week and make sure we have all needed materials. It’s a lifesaver for us." —Elizabeth R.

    "I really recommend that you be one week ahead of your students: you will know what they need and how to prepare for it. Check the rubrics together. There are some lessons that are meant to be spread over several days—do not try to finish those in one day!" —Elena S.

    "Look ahead! As a Learning Coach, I don’t want to be caught off guard needing something we may not have or stumbling around the lesson trying to figure things out while my kids are getting bored." —Amber G.

    "Plan ahead and read everything!" —Marteeta S.

    "At the end of each day, we make sure everything is ready for the next day. We make sure the computer is charged and pencils are sharpened. We also talk about our game plan and what is expected for the following day. Having five other kids, I find it easy just to always stay three steps ahead on life." —Shannon H.

    Buckle down and do the schoolwork

    Experienced Learning Coaches and online students offer lots of useful advice for helping students stay on track with their studies.

    "Read over all materials and do not skip steps. Check your to-do list and emails daily." —Hollis S.

    "Always check to make sure there are no changes to the assignment before beginning. There is no bigger frustration than completing an assignment and finding there was a change and then having to start over!" —Brenda C.

    "We purchased a weekly planner. This way we can write down when my students have a portfolio due. Take it one day, one class, at a time. I have a clock that we have set up. I give [my students] forty-five minutes in each class. If they finished before that time, they can go to the next assignment for that class." —Chanin C.

    "Try not to get overwhelmed. Instead, just knock out one lesson at a time, and eventually the work will be done." —Kristen H.

    "Let your kids do the work. And if they need you for something, remind them you are always there for them—and so are all the teachers! Patience is the key for parents and the students!" —Sherry K.

    "Look at the rubrics [for assignments] and listen to that teacher’s online class recording if you have questions. [Teachers] usually discuss bigger assignments during their [LiveLesson] classes. And if needed, go right to the teachers with questions. Take the time to learn your teacher’s expectations for work assignments." —Valari A.

    "Make sure you have everything you need for the lessons. Set goals. If you get frustrated, take a break, take a walk—get some air—and then knock it out! Celebrate reaching your goals and accomplishments." —HollyAnn C.

    We hope using these great parent-tested tips will inspire you, help you make a smoother transition to online school, or equip you to overcome an issue your family is having.

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  • Top Reasons Why Online Schools Work for Parents

    by Beth Werrell

    Why Online Schools Work for Parents

    Imagine yourself in the shoes of a parent with a child who has asthma. Sometimes, asthma attacks keep your child out of school. He misses classes, homework, and tests—which means he has to work extra hard to catch up. This happens multiple times per year, and it's starting to take a toll on your child and your family.

    Now think about the flip side of this scenario: with online learning, your child's asthma attacks don't hold him back. Instead, your child gets schoolwork done at home in a time line that works for you and your family. No more missed tests, stockpiles of homework, or anxiety on account of falling behind.

    As a parent of a child in virtual school, you have access to greater flexibility and control. You set your child's daily schedule. You decide if your child can go on a family vacation and still get schoolwork done. You decide when the learning day starts and when it stops.

    These are just a few of the many benefits parents can experience when their child attends school online. Over the years, many parents have told us that Connections Academy works well for their family when they can:

    • Dedicate time to keeping the student motivated throughout the day
    • Provide ongoing guidance and encouragement
    • Help monitor student comprehension and progress
    • Organize and structure the learning day
    • Maintain regular contact with their child's teachers
    • Encourage their students to interact with others through field trips, clubs, and community activities
    Don't Take Our Word for It … Hear It from Real Parents

    Learning about what Connections Academy can do for your family is great, but it's not the whole picture. We want you to have all of the facts, both from the source and from those with firsthand experience, so you can make the right decision for your child and your family.

    Take a look at some of the reasons why online school works well for parents, as told on the Connections Academy Facebook page:

    Parent Involvement

    One of the most common reasons parents appreciate online learning is the extra time it unleashes to spend time with family. In particular, parents have communicated to us that it provides them with the opportunity to take an active role in their children's learning. Parents don't just act as the "homework helper"—if they wish, they can take a more proactive approach to what their children learn, like these parents below:

    "It gives us as parents the opportunity to see how our kids learn. Usually we rely on the teachers, but [now] I know for myself what works and what doesn't."—Carmisha W.

    "It allows us to spend more time together, learning together. It allows my role in their education to be more than a homework nag."—Amanda M.

    "My kids can focus on learning rather than the taunts of the many bullies in an overcrowded classroom."—Kimberly B.

    Flexible Scheduling

    Online education provides a much more flexible environment than a brick-and-mortar education. Even though roles and activities are carefully structured to ensure that students develop a love of learning and gain skills essential to their future success in school, parents can choose the daily routine and learning atmosphere for their children.

    "My boys can stand up, walk around, or bounce on a ball while learning. No sitting and listening to lectures. We have active discussions, which provides ample time for questioning and a deeper level of understanding."—–Jennifer C.

    "We have been able to really work with the flexible schedule. They have been to Groundhog Day in Pennsylvania, will get to go on an Alaskan cruise before the brick-and-mortars finish for the year, and have been able to travel with me for work and still get the schoolwork accomplished!"—–Darla T.

    "We can alter our schedule around trips and still not get behind on work."—–Elizabeth R.

    "My child can work when she needs to, she can enjoy her hobby freely, and I get to have her around me during the day."—–Cricket C.

    "I appreciate that he can work when he isn't feeling great because of his asthma. Sometimes he feels like he isn't sick enough to need a sick day and still wants to work. In brick-and-mortar [school], he would have been sent home and then be forced to catch up on missed work when he was able to return. Connections Academy allows me to monitor his health and well-being while continuing to let him thrive!"—–Amanda M.

    Are you a parent of a child attending Connections Academy? We would love to hear your perspective on why online school works for your family in the comments below.

    Or if you are considering enrolling your child in an online education, learn more about Connections Academy today.

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  • Online Teacher vs. Learning Coach: What’s the Difference?

    by Stephanie Osorno

    The Difference Between an Online Teacher vs. Learning Coach

    Teacher and Learning Coach: what was your initial interpretation of these titles? Did you have to think twice because they seemed similar? At first glance, these titles could be construed as synonyms since each involves a degree of leadership for students. When it comes to virtual school, however, teacher and Learning Coach represent two distinct roles.

    So, as the parent of a virtual school student, which role should you be playing? Teachers and Learning Coaches are accountable for several duties that they handle differently, but both collaborate to enhance the student’s online learning experience. If you’re considering online school for your child, we are here to help you determine how to stay within the Learning Coach bubble. Take a look at the various differences between teacher and Learning Coach below to learn more about your specific duties and the ways each role can complement the other!

    Online Teacher vs. Learning Coach

    Virtual schools have certified teachers who are dedicated to helping students succeed—that means a Learning Coach serves as a guide, supporter, and motivator to further stimulate learning and establish a suitable structure for the school day at home. The role of a Learning Coach evolves over time as the student gains confidence and develops more academic skills.

    Among other things, teachers and Learning Coaches oversee daily learning, provide assistance, and monitor progress in different ways.

    Daily Learning

    Breathe easy; it is the teacher's responsibility to teach and provide students with learning material. A Learning Coach is not required to plan any lessons. Instead, he or she should make sure that the student stays focused each school day. Here are a few examples of tasks teachers and Learning Coaches complete to facilitate daily learning:

    Online Teacher

    • Leads the class during real-time virtual classroom sessions
    • Presents new material
    • Plans various lessons for specific subjects
    • Determines which topics will be covered each day

    Learning Coach

    • Encourages breaks throughout the day when appropriate
    • Motivates the student to complete lessons
    • Makes sure the student has enough rest and nutrients for a productive school day
    • Asks the student what he or she learned at the end of each day to maintain open dialogue
    Questions and Assistance

    Since teachers lead the class, it is important that major questions be directed at them—after all, that is what teachers are there for! Learning Coaches can help with small concerns and questions such as, "Am I on the right track?" or "Am I being clear in this essay?" The more students reach out to their teachers, the more they will grow to be independent learners. Here are a few examples of tasks that teachers and Learning Coaches complete to effectively assist students:

    Online Teacher

    • Answers the student’s questions in the virtual classroom, or via phone or WebMail
    • Can offer support through individual online sessions
    • Personalizes lessons based on the student's needs
    • Clarifies any confusion or misunderstanding

    Learning Coach

    • Prompts the student to communicate with the teacher when needed
    • Answers minor questions and assists with assignments but does not resolve the problem or do the work on the student's behalf
    • Reassures the student when he or she is having trouble understanding a concept
    • Implements some learning activities that might help with areas of weakness

    Teachers and Learning Coaches both play a key role in monitoring a student’s progress. The two are encouraged to stay in contact throughout the school year to discuss how the student is doing. Here are a few examples of tasks that teachers and Learning Coaches complete to properly monitor a student's progress:

    Online Teacher

    • Communicates frequently with the student to ensure that he or she understands the material before moving on
    • Contacts the Learning Coach to discuss the student’s progress
    • Tracks recent activity
    • Analyzes student performance
    • Works with the student and establishes a plan to tackle subjects that require more practice

    Learning Coach

    • Documents the student's attendance on a daily basis
    • Assists with organization and time management skills
    • Stays in contact with teacher for regular updates and suggestions
    • Ensures that the student is working at an appropriate learning pace

    Even though teachers and Learning Coaches play different roles, the student’s journey to success is a team effort!

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