Emily gave her opinion on her view of Virtual School, but I thought since we are almost 3 months away from finishing this first school year here in FL, it was high time that I give mine on it. Again, this is my opinion ONLY and take it for what it’s worth- enjoy!
Let’s rewind. If you have been reading for awhile, you know that our daughter, Emily, who is 11, attempted to attend 6th Grade at Celebration Grade School. Having read, done the research with Craig, ON PAPER, this looked like it would work beautifully for her. I had heard the horror stories about how bad the schools were in the South, especially in Florida, so I knew this would be a gamble. Emily looked smashing in her uniform, braids, and kitty backpack- things looked good. Her first week was rough, but she made it. Then the 2nd week we had a bit of an odd incident with scheduling and we had a window of time to decide- do we keep her in and hope for the best, or pull her out and give virtual school a try? Put yourselves in our shoes… we were only here 2 months when she was heading into this school, and we were just as scared as she was. The choice was made- Emily would do virtual school for her 6th grade year.
Now, the process to get her signed up was pain free, and the people in the office were more than helpful at the beginning. Apparently because of the sad state of affairs the school systems are in down here, Virtual School numbers rise with each passing year. I thought this was really sad- I grew up with healthy schools all around me in WI. I also grew up before the computer was a part of our daily lives as well. The idea of children sitting in front of laptops instead of in classrooms seemed just really sad to me, but I understood why people needed to make this choice. I was in shock I guess that we had to make this choice at all.
Emily did very well in her schools in WI- she was the kid that every teacher wanted 30 of. Each parent conference we left with big smiles on our faces, so incredibly proud that she had behaved so well in class and did academically as well too. Socially, Emily had a rough time, and I never could pinpoint if it was because of her medical past, or if it was just her quiet personality. She took to heart anything good or bad said about her or too her, and she had a very hard time shaking off bullying situations. Enough that we had the principal involved in one incident, and it always stuck with me that the child’s parent never recognized the horrible things her own child admitted saying to Emily. Yet, Emily overcame it all and still left her last school happy she made it to that last day there.
Fast forward to my Emily sitting in front of two monitors, in her own bedroom, 5 days a week, from 9-3:30 p.m. As much as she loves sitting in her PJ’s from time to time, I have tried my hardest to keep her on a schedule. Getting up, showering, breakfast, vitamins and eye drops, followed by actually getting dressed like she was going to “real school.” Yes, I have called it that, and that’s probably the worst term to use, but I never know what to call it. “School in a building” maybe? Anyways, keeping her on this schedule is hard because Craig works from home. Hence why we could do this in the first place, because one of us always HAD to be home, thus keeping her held accountable to getting her class work done. But when Craig is ALWAYS home, it gets to be too much for the both of them. He is trying to do his work, which he used to do in an office environment, so he is already dealing with his own “Cabin Fever” from time to time. Now add Emily who relies on Dad for help, and it becomes too much at home.
Where do I fit in? Well, I am in and out of the house at different times during the week. I have tried to help Emily with her school work, but because of how much of it is technical items that need to be dealt with, she would rather have Dad’s help. I try not to take offense, but sometimes I can feel useless. The Emily I used to drop off at school, where we shared our own inside stories and jokes, seemed to be something that never happened in the first place. I am not going to lie, I really, REALLY, miss that time spent with her. The same of picking her up from school- her excited smile as she approached the car, knowing she was heading home. I know, MANY of you are thinking “You can still share stories at home” but it is NOT the same- it just isn’t.
She still does very well with her studies, but for her age, it just seems very difficult for her. I tried online school once for my college degree, and I had a VERY hard time following the lessons without a teacher standing in front of me. Emily seemed to do well with reading the lessons at first, but I think the manner in which she has to “pay attention” is starting to wear thin. She truly loved a teacher’s feedback, and even though they do call to check in with her once a month, it isn’t the 5 days a week interaction that I do feel she enjoyed in WI. It is a double edged sword… you get to take school in your bedroom, but now your relaxing spot, your playing spot, is now also where you to have learn Spanish and other subjects.
I missed the school pictures, the school dances, and just the overall involvement parents have when your child is in school. At her old school I helped with Festivals, volunteered on field trips, etc… Yes, I was hoping to make my own for her, but the ambition and the desire for Emily and I both seems to have faded on that. Maybe it’s because the school year for everyone is coming to a close in 3 months, but I feel like this year has been a wash. Add the move, with a new school, and school year, and it was just a lot for our family to handle as a whole.
Another reason we chose Virtual was so that we had the time to look into other options over this past school year. We didn’t hear anything pleasant about the charter schools, and due to the distance to where a lot of them are located, it wasn’t going to work for us. You have to keep in mind that if you choose a school “out of your zone” you have to be willing to drive it EVERY DAY, 5 days a week.
So the burning question you’re probably thinking is, would I put Emily in Virtual again? My answer is no. Here is why- Emily needs the social skills just as much as the education. If your child is being bullied, harassed, or having a VERY hard time in school, then Virtual is for them. If the school you are sending your child too has a very bad grade, and has a horrible environment to boot- Virtual School is for them. And yes, if you JUST moved here or you move MID-school year, Virtual gives you the time to look at other options if you aren’t happy with your first choice.
We are sending Emily back this Fall for 7th Grade, and all we can do is hope and pray that the second time is the charm. I will be addressing the issues I had with them the first time around with the guidance counselor, and hopefully we can come to a good place where both sides are prepared for this coming school year. I know Emily loved Virtual because she didn’t have to deal with the politics of regular school life, but I almost need and want her too so that she grows and is ready for High School.
She heads to a different school for her school testing in the coming months, and that will pretty much be it. I am not mocking or making fun of Virtual in any way, but when Emily had to take “Gym” online, I thought I had heard it all. Emily and I play tennis a lot in the drive way at lunch so she is out and active, and the pool is beginning to warm up again, so she will be able to swim a lot more.
Let me reiterate one point, YOU DO NOT KNOW UNTIL YOU EXPERIENCE IT. I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked about the schools down here, and I give the same answer always which is “I don’t know.” Every child is different, and you have to evaluate each child individually. Kyra and Emily are complete polar opposites when it comes to personalities. Kyra has done EXTREMELY well in her Senior Year at Celebration High, and as many of you know, her introduction to it was terrible. I was way more worried about Kyra in the beginning of the school year than Emily because of it being Kyra’s last school year. My how things have changed!
Let me leave you with this… when considering your relocation to Central Florida, or anywhere, the best research and time you can invest in will be in your child’s future school. But, remember, you will never know until they experience it for themselves. I hope this helps those of you who are looking into schools and that it sheds light on our experience with Virtual School.