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Reimagining School. How some virtual models have gone from good to great.

As teachers and administrators continue to scramble with a plan for the fall 2020 semester, it’s looking more and more likely that the virtualized, at-home learning implemented at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic is here for the foreseeable future in many districts. Countless parents across the globe worked valiantly to make this form of education work for their kids in the spring, but it was abundantly clear that lessons done over video chat and worksheets sent back-and-forth over the internet just isn’t going to be the innovative solution to the crisis at hand that it initially seemed to be.

Now that it’s expected to return for anywhere from between a few weeks and a few months, parents are feeling the pressure of dealing with virtualized at-home learning all over again. If this attempt at “maintaining normalcy” didn’t work the first time, why is it expected to suddenly work the second time around? This situation begs the question: What’s more important for our learners, a familiar education or a good one?

Virtual Learning: Their Way

The virtualized, at-home learning seen during the early weeks and months of the novel coronavirus pandemic represented a missed opportunity to offer kids a more individualized education. Most schools spent the summer working through scenarios for in-person learning and prepping for a litany of legal challenges. Unfortunately, they did not use that time to prepare for another disruptive schooling experience.

Virtual Learning: The Right Way

Let’s not allow our experience with the virtual school during the pandemic to shape our opinions of virtual schooling entirely. Traditional schools are lumbering forces—many haven’t changed in 50 years, and they simply cannot pivot efficiently to a new model. When confronted with the challenge, they opted to build an online PDF of the annual Sears catalog rather than amazon.com. But we know it can be better because we’ve seen it. Let’s walk through a few examples.

Take Matthew Hartzell, an alumnus of K12 virtual school. K12 has been building bespoke virtual school experiences for 20 years, so they’ve got something of a leg up on your local school scrambling to innovate. Matt recently wrote of his experience, “Arizona Virtual Academy (AZVA) was the solution to ensuring that I would be challenged as a high-achieving student but wouldn’t face the social isolation that we were concerned I would face at a brick-and-mortar school.” At just 12 years old, Matt was able to enter high school, pursue his own interests, and move at his own pace toward early graduation.

Or how about New Hampshire’s Emily Duggan, who had a passion for dance but wasn’t able to pursue it while tied to a rigorous traditional school schedule. Emily was the subject of a Wired magazine feature a few years ago. Her school, Virtual Learning Academy, embraces technology for all it has to offer. She was able to benefit from a totally flexible schedule, but stay connected with virtual tutoring, regular one-on-one sessions with her teachers, and some really cool, interactive software. The school prides itself on being “ever-present”— offering around-the-clock support for their students.

And consider Caleb Martin, a student at Connections Academy. He made the switch to this online school because he could focus on moving at his own pace. The individualized lessons and one-on-one sessions always push Caleb to the fullest. When it’s a bit too much, Caleb is free to log off and take a walk around the neighborhood with his trusty family dog. The experience couldn’t be further from the one we’ve all heard about in traditional schools—it’s low-stress, high-efficiency learning.

Try Something Different

While some schools are giving the in-person experience a shot, it’s fair to say that most kids will be seeing a heavy dose of virtual schooling this year. There’s little chance that school will feel familiar in 2020, so why not look for options that throw familiar out the window and focus only on being… good?

Know that there are options available for you other than what your district is offering—many are free or very affordable, and it’s easy to make the switch now for this year. Who knows, you might prefer the amazon.com experience to the stale, musty aisles of your local Sears after all. What we know for sure is that you’ll prefer it over the Sears catalog PDF and so will your learner.