Even as some states loosen pandemic restrictions, in-person school for the fall is still a big question mark. Will we return full time? How will we social distance? What would a hybrid of virtual and in-person education look and feel like? Students, teachers, parents, and even childcare workers will be impacted by these difficult decisions as families increasingly are considering an established online school.
One Alabama superintendent says 15 to 20% of his families would rather keep their kids out of the classroom. As parents weigh the pros and cons and schools scramble for pandemic-friendly solutions, educators prepare for major changes.
Focusing on the individual child
Ann Marie Sastry, an online learning expert and CEO of Amesite , recommends that parents evaluate all options through two criteria: the quality of the teachers/teaching and the technology tools used. “Increasingly, both on-ground and online schools will employ outstanding faculty who can work remotely—and every school needs to invest in high-quality instructional technology to be competitive.”
Technology needs will depend on your child’s age and the subject matter, but her recommendation to consider both technology and teaching quality is a solid place to start for parents considering a switch.
Considering teachers’ experience
Some parents are reevaluating their priorities. Do they want experienced teachers in an online platform? Or teachers who are new to virtual teaching but have a wealth of experience within a traditional brick-and-mortar school setting?
Louisa Childs is the Head of School for Dwight Global Online School, and she’s seen a tenfold increase in admission inquiries for her programs, as compared to this time last year. She encourages families to take stock of what works best for their child’s needs and to spend time thoroughly exploring the options. “Many parents feel comfortable knowing their child’s teacher has years of experience with the strategies and technologies that make online learning so successful.”
Knowing what a “great” online school looks like
Whether parents enroll in just one year of online learning or stay for their child’s whole education, it’s important to look for a great school. Childs feels the best online programs have teachers who are “fully-versed” in the following:
- Building lasting and personal relationships with their students in a virtual space.
- Streamlining communications so that families don’t have to hop between systems to understand their child’s assignments, progress, and resources.
- Translating in-person pedagogies to a cloud-based classroom.
- Balancing structure with flexibility so students get the best of all worlds.
- Using different methods to draw out each student and help them connect with their peers and their work.
- Knowing how to build partnerships between teachers and parents online.
- Keeping students engaged and productive while doing schoolwork when it works best for them.
“Some teachers absolutely thrive behind a screen, and a good online school has found those educators,” she said.
It’s essential, however, not to compare the mayhem of virtual teaching during the pandemic months to how traditional schools will adapt for virtual learning in the fall and beyond. Many districts are spending the summer educating their staff on best practices for virtual teaching. Any virtual teaching or hybrid model will be more controlled and less chaotic when back to school starts.
Waiting for district decisions
While some states have advised parents they will be returning to in-classroom education, others are still waiting … and wondering. One mom, Danielle H., has two pre-K sons and a first-grade daughter. She’s using an if-then formula to decide what’s best for fall. “We don’t know [if schools will open] which is a huge source of frustration for me. Schools will reopen when our county hits ‘green’ status, and even now in early June, we are still ‘red,’” she said.
She’s also weighing the pros and cons of online school. The pros include spending increased time with her children and allowing them to have more free time to play or be active outside. The cons include “less socialization” and “an increase in my workload as the primary person in charge of their education, limiting my ability to return to the workforce as planned.” She thinks she can solve that first problem through current friendships her child already has. But working may be tougher. “It will be hard. I may need to hire help,” she said.
Avoiding a switch to online mid-semester
Another Pennsylvania mom, Jenna Fletcher, was already considering moving to established online school before the pandemic. She is ready to make the switch this fall as she is concerned with her child’s safety in a classroom setting. “With the probability for lots of disruptions in the next school year in brick and mortar schools, we decided virtual school would be better for her. She has already had lots of disruptions (stillbirth of a brother, colicky baby, pandemic canceling abruptly the rest of her school year and activities) so we only wanted one major adjustment period next year and that will be the adjustment to online school.”
The fact that her in-person district hasn’t made any plans yet has played a huge role in Fletcher’s decision. She has more confidence in established online schools at this point.
“We see virtual education as already being set up to accommodate the climate of COVID-19 and distance learning whereas brick and mortar schools are in crisis mode. I’d rather deal with a well-oiled educational system that’s accustomed to distance learning than one making it up as they go,” she said. However, she’s also concerned with socialization. Her daughter will miss her peers. She also fears balancing her own career with her child at home.
The decision won’t be easy
In the end, the decision isn’t one that should be made lightly. Consider input from the child and former and current teachers. Conduct extensive research. Even consider sitting in on online classes to ensure that school is right for your unique child and situation.
What are your thoughts on returning to in-person or online classes? Are you considering established online school for the fall? Share in the comments below.