Virtual school offers unique experience

The American Press

Families make the switch to home schooling for a variety of reasons, including mental health, peer pressure and the scheduling demands of competitive sports.

But despite the flexibility the home-school setting affords, this alternative brings its own set of issues to the table, such as estrangement from school-related activities, credibility concerns, and hurdles to qualifying for TOPS.

A new virtual school recently approved by the Calcasieu Parish School Board seeks to address these issues while catering to the unique needs of nontraditional students.

The virtual school would be offered to students entering grades 9-12 next school year who are enrolled in homeschool programs.

Some features of the new program:

• Local point of contact for questions or face-to-face appointments with teachers.

• Opportunity for students to participate in certain extracurricular activities with their zoned school at the discretion of the school principal. l Graduation with a diploma from the zoned school and ability to participate in the graduation ceremony.

• Required to score a 20 on the ACT to quality for TOPS, while home-schoolers must score a 22.

• Flexible course load. Students must spend a minimum of five hours a week on each course but can work ahead and not have absences count against them.

Virtual schools do away with problems associated with travel, weather, absences for minor illnesses and bullying, and they offer opportunities for faster learning to gifted self-starters. The drawbacks to such a format are obvious: issues related to the digital medium, lack of social interaction and trouble tracking individual growth.

But to be fair those drawbacks usually apply to homeschool programs as well. And since the program is meant as an alternative to home schooling, not to pull traditional students from brick-and-mortar sites, they shouldn’t take away from the positivity surrounding this program.

Time and continual evaluation are the only surefire ways to gauge the effectiveness of the new virtual school. But hopefully it will help give our nontraditional students more opportunities and structure in the classroom.

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