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Technology + Public School = Connections Academy
When they hear the word “homeschool” many people immediately assume we’re talking about extremely religious parents who educate their children at home by themselves, or at the other end of the spectrum, extremely flaky parents who throw together a hodgepodge of books and multimedia and call it an education. Yet most people know that plenty of college students are now “distance learners”, taking their classes and exams online, so it should come as no surprise that technology can also bring real, credentialed teachers and a real, accredited public school curriculum into your home through the internet and a computer.
What may come as a surprise is that it can be done at NO COST to the student’s family, just the same as “regular” public school.
My Connections Academy Experience
Connections Academy is one of several online public schools, but since it’s the only one with which I have personal experience it’s the only one I’m sharing today.
For kids who aren’t well-suited to the usual public school system, whether due to illness, learning disabilities, or a youth “career” in athletics or the arts, Connections Academy can be the ideal solution. My son was a Connections Academy student for grades 4 – 6, and we both loved it. When he returned to the “regular”, brick and mortar public school system in the 7th grade, he was actually quite far ahead of the educational curve compared to his peers.
The main reason why he left CA is that while CA does its best to provide students with social activities like clubs and outings, his father and I felt it was important for him to have the typical public school and classroom experience from middle school on. CA can match up students who live in the same geographic area and want to meet as a group for their schooling, but in our case the closest CA families to us were still about an hour away.
How Does It Work?
On paper (e.g., permanent school records), Connections Academy looks just like any other public school. Each regional “campus” has a rigorous curriculum that’s been designed to not just meet, but exceed state and federal public school requirements. At the start of the school year, CA ships the grade-appropriate curriculum materials to the student’s home, including textbooks, workbooks, laboratory supplies (for science) and even art supplies. CA will even provide a computer for students whose families don’t have one, plus a stipend for families that need help affording in-home internet access. Every student also receives a supply of folders and pre-paid envelopes for mailing completed assignments to teachers for hands-on review.
There’s a set curriculum and each student is assigned to one or more credentialed teachers. The parent or guardian at home serves as a “learning coach”, responsible for ensuring that the student logs into CA’s sites each day to receive and complete assignments, assisting with science and other projects as needed, keeping in touch with teachers and CA administrators, and mailing those pre-paid envelopes with each month’s written assignments. Students keep in touch with their teachers via phone, email and videochat. A portion of the lessons are completed totally online, while others are completed in hard copy for teacher review.
CA students are given free access to numerous premium, online educational subscription services that everyone else has to pay for out of pocket, like BrainPop educational videos and the Discovery online catalog of articles, research materials and television programs.
The CA curriculum is considerably more robust than the typical “regular” public school curriculum, but this doesn’t pose the challenge you might think it would. Since a CA student’s schooling is completely customized to the student, it’s incredibly efficient. He can go at a faster pace in subjects where he’s strong, then spend extra time on more difficult subjects. He never has to wait for others to ‘catch up’, or worry about falling behind while others are racing ahead of him.
When the student really takes a shine to a given subject, there’s plenty of time to delve into it as deeply as the student and learning coach want to, and the rich variety of learning materials CA provides offers more than enough fodder for research and independent study.
Apart from special projects, a CA student never has homework in the traditional sense. Once a given lesson has been delivered, whether online or through assigned reading in CA’s provided textbooks, the student immediately completes any assigned exercises or writing. By the time his peers are leaving their brick and mortar schools and preparing to do the standard 3 or so hours of homework, the CA student is finished with his schoolwork for the day.
Furthermore, the student and his family set their own schooling schedule. While there are deadlines for assignments, just as in “regular” public school, it’s up to the student and family to determine what their school schedule will be. Students can log in to CA’s sites at any hour, on any day, and from any location with internet access. Earlybirds can get started at dawn, and night owls can treat CA as a “night school”. Some families pack all of the week’s schooling into just a few days in order to keep the rest of the week free for athletics, arts training or the like.
What About Grades and Standardized Tests?
CA’s grading works the same as any public school, and all of its coursework and credits are totally transferable to any other public or private school.
CA administers all the same standardized tests as any other public school, and it’s one of the few times students must be taken to an actual classroom for testing. In states where parents are allowed to opt out of standardized tests for their kids, CA families have that option as well.
If/when your child makes the transition back to a brick and mortar school, she’ll be right in step with her peers in terms of grades and testing. She’ll also probably be at least a few months ahead of her peers when it comes to subject matter learning because of her more personalized, intensive educational experience through CA.
Students who are with CA during high school even have the option to start taking college courses in tandem with their high school courses during their Junior and Senior years, or complete their high school education a year early to get a jump start on college. Just as with other public schools, CA provides students with academic advisors to help them stay on track to meet college entrance requirements, as well as for assistance with completing college and finanical aid applications. Again, on paper their CA transcripts look just like any other public school records, and since CA is fully accredited its coursework is recognized by colleges, trade and technical schools.
How Can This Possibly Be Free?
CA is funded by tax dollars, just like any other public school.
If you have a child with special learning, environment or schedule requirements, or if you feel your local public school simply isn’t meeting your child’s educational needs, consider making the switch to Connections Academy.
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