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Virtual education offers options for students, parents

POSTED: April 9, 2014 12:42 a.m.

Customized, personalized education was the common theme as parents gathered to learn more about an online learning option for their children.

“We respect that it’s not the best situation for every single family,” said Georgia Connections teacher and Oakwood resident Andy Chapman. “We also think that (for) a lot of families, that this is what they need. This is their lifeboat.”

Georgia Connections Academy is a K-12 public cyberschool authorized by the State Charter Schools Commission.

Around 20 parents and students attended an information session about the virtual school on Tuesday, with advocates saying this method of learning offers a more individualized approach to education.

Georgia Connections is one of a few different online schools popping up as options for students — others include Georgia Cyber Academy and Georgia Virtual School.

It’s an attractive offering to some, allowing children to work at their own pace in their own environment. The online lessons may also provide outlets for students who wouldn’t have opportunities in brick-and-mortar schools.

For example, the state-led Georgia Virtual School has courses at middle and high school level, originally established to provide options for rural students in public high schools.

Now, it includes private and home-schooled students on a full-time basis. Both Gainesville and Hall systems use Georgia Virtual School for courses not offered, such as specific Advanced Placement classes or foreign languages.

Georgia Connections is a K-12 public school, so students attend free of charge. The company, owned by Pearson Higher Education, provides textbooks and other learning materials. The out-of-pocket costs for families involve a home computer with Internet access, field trip expenses and any additional testing expenses for Advanced Placement classes.

The ability to accommodate different backgrounds and family scheduling is an attractive option for many people.

“What is very nice about the flexibility is, I have kids in my class where dad’s a trucker,” Georgia Connections teacher Carey Gilbert said. “So just with your own family dynamics, what’s nice about that is the kid who has a dad as a trucker, sometimes he’s just home on a Wednesday. So they decide they’re going to take Wednesday off and work Saturday instead, so he gets to spend the whole day with his dad.”

The flexibility and personalized learning instruction have helped Georgia Connections grow; this year, 3,000 students are enrolled while it will accept 4,000 for next year.

But online education isn’t for everyone, which the teachers admit.

“Virtual school is a change,” Chapman said. “It’s a big difference going from getting on a bus in the morning or being brought to school in the morning; sitting in a classroom with other students, going through the routine of the day.”

And it’s also a change for the parent, especially for those with younger children who require more supervision and spend more time away from the computer than on it.

“It’s not just putting a student, especially a second-grader or younger elementary student, in front of a computer and expecting them to learn,” Chapman added. “There’s that involvement and that interactivity that’s required from the (parent).”


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