Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

Online Schools
Virtual learning offers students a range of educational options

by Trisha Shepherd

August 01, 2013

Sarah Maksymovitch had no complaints about the quality of education her boys were receiving at their public elementary school in Noblesville. They had great teachers, a nice facility and a safe, loving environment. But one critical piece was missing: flexibility. Ultimately that’s what drove Sarah to seek out a radically different style of schooling for her children: virtual education. “I added up the hours Tyler was spending on school and homework, and it was more than a full time job!” Sarah recalls. “I was starting to realize the benefits of having kids at home in terms of a more flexible schedule, allowing them to move at their own pace.”

A Fast-Growing Trend

Online school programs serve a small fraction of all Indiana K-12 students, but growth in the last several years has been explosive. One of the state’s largest free and public virtual schools, Indiana Connections Academy, opened three years ago with less than 300 students. This past school year, they served more than 2,800. Many parents are surprised to learn the program is free of charge. “We are a public school in the state of Indiana. We get our money through the state,” explains Principal Melissa Brown. The school operates through the Ball State University charter office and offers students individualized teaching with Indiana-certified teachers. Growth has been so rapid that Brown says Indiana Connections Academy is capping enrollment for the upcoming school year. “We anticipate another big jump in enrollment,” says Brown. “If people are interested, I would encourage them to apply early.”

Flexible Schedules

Flexibility of scheduling is a big draw for many families who enroll their children in online schools, like Maksymovitch, who decided to enroll her sons in a free, public virtual school program through Hoosier Academies last year. From afternoon bike rides, to family vacations on their own timeline, she loved the freedom this option offered. “We got to go down to Florida for a family vacation in October when everybody else was in school,” she recalls. Other families crave flexibility for more specific reasons. Indiana’s online schools have among their students a wide range of elite athletes and performers, as well as children whose families travel extensively.

Personalized Instruction

Many families who seek online programs are in search of more customized academic attention. “We have students who are high achievers and highly motivated, we also have students who struggle and need a lot of remediation,” explains Brown. Next year, the parent organization behind Indiana Connections Academy is opening a new hybrid high school called Nexus Academy, where students will attend a classroom in the Glendale Shopping Center complex in Indianapolis for four hours per day, four days a week, and do the rest of their school work online. “There are some kids who really benefit from the personal interaction you can have not only with peers but with adults,” explains Nexus Academy Principal Kyle Barrentine . “We’re the best of both worlds. We have the flexibility of an online school, but the structure and socialization of a traditional brick and mortar school.”

Finding What Works

Ultimately, Sarah ̶ a former elementary teacher ̶ decided that while she liked the virtual school option, she wants to take the leap into home schooling next year. “Both of my boys, especially Tyler, had a hard time sitting still, paying attention – that was hard for them,” Sarah explains. “I think it depends on the kid.” Brown agrees that online school isn’t for every student. She says to know whether your child would be a good candidate for online learning, you should talk to other parents who have tried it and do lots of research. “You can watch how a live lesson works, see how our curriculum works,” says Brown. “At the end of the day, the student and family can decide if this is a viable option.”