People ask us questions all the time about our kids doing online public school from home. I thought I’d put together some of the most common questions and answers for you in this awesome FAQ
June 2016 UPDATE
Alex Graduated High School on June 13th officially although she completed all of her courses weeks earlier. She is SO happy that she is done with High School and that she chose to go the route of Online Public School for her Senior year. We had no cap and gown walk to cheer for, no prom to send her off to and none of the other stresses of finals that all of her other friends stressed about during their final months in school. We are having a family graduation party to celebrate her accomplishment.
Sam finished 8th grade with Straight A’s and was done a few weeks early. He has already picked out his 9th grade classes and couldn’t be more excited about doing school while traveling the world his freshman year.
As of February 2016: *Our kids are 18 & 14. Alex is in her Senior year and chose Online Public School for this year. Sam is 14 and is in 8th Grade. This is his 2nd year in online public school. They both are enrolled at Washington Academy of Arts and Technology, which is in the East Valley School District in Spokane Valley, WA.
Q. How do your kids get socialization?
A. Um, well, we don’t lock them up in the house with us. Alex is a Singer, Actress, Dancer and Director. She is in a theatre institute program; is in Musicals throughout the year; earned a coveted work exchange job (exchanges work for free classes) at a well known professional studio in Seattle; she visits with her local H.S. Drama Teacher every couple of weeks and even teaches Theatre Games and Techniques in her drama classes on occasion; and, she even has her own Scentsy business. Sam is at dance 6 days a week. He spends anywhere from 22-30hrs a week rehearsing in every genre of dance. He eats dinner with his buddies (basically lots of girls); goes to dance competitions where he meets other boys and girls his age who have the common interest of dancing; he also was just in a big fundraiser for Village Theatre Kidstage, along with Alex, where he had tons of guy time with his buddies singing, dancing and acting. In the Summer he is also in Musicals. Both our kids get lots of time with peers.
Q. Do you Home School your kids?
A. No. I know this may be confusing but, just because they do their school work and studies at home, they are not ‘technically’ home schooled. Home Schooling consists of Parents teaching their children themselves from home or in collaboration with other parents/community members. We do not teach our kids. Online Public School is basically the same as going to a regular school and studying the same topics/lessons being taught in person except, they can do it online, at home. They both have 1 teacher (Sam has Trudy, and Alex has Paula) that they speak with at least once a week to check in for truancy/attendances purposes and to touch bases. If they have any issues or are struggling with any assignment or lesson or have a technical issue – they email or call their teacher. We help them like a parent. If they have a question they may want to run past us for further understanding or whatever, Shawn and I both can help with subjects that we each are better at.
Q. Why did you take your kids out of public school? What happened?
A. Both kids chose this, not us. Each separately and independently. Here’s what happened. Alex came home from the theatre 2yrs ago asking if she could take online P.E. She is kind of lazy with school P.E. and heard that some of her friends were doing it. We were all like – “there is no such thing!”, “that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of”, “seriously, are you that lazy?” – and more. We ended up researching to see if this was a real thing and basically, we learned of a whole new world. Alex tossed around the idea of enrolling in online public school for her Junior year but eventually decided on staying in her H.S. (with the kids she’d been with since she was 6yrs old) for Drama and Math and then take Running Start for her other classes. Sam however surprised us all by begging to do it. We were shocked. He was popular. Did well in school. Had been with these kids since he was 3 and always loved socializing. I asked him every single day for 5 months if he was SURE this is what he wanted. We were second guessing ourselves as parents. Was this a good decision? What if it messed him up socially or even screwed up his education? Would we want to kill him because he was with us all day, every day, during the day when we were working (we both work from home if you aren’t aware)? The only real issue we had with our local public schools were that for Sam, Middle School just wasn’t as good an environment as elementary was and he did get bullied for the way he dressed and his hair – again, he’s a dancer and didn’t dress like everyone else. For Alex, she just doesn’t like the classroom setting. Kids are disrespectful to teachers and most don’t check the kids. She’s had things stolen from her and even ruined on purpose. One kids stomped on her smoothie because he didn’t like her – in her Math Class! She is a joiner. She loves to participate, cares about her grades and is respectful and has a very hard time learning in an environment that is chaotic or disorganized and even – negative. Having kids groan when you give a report and not having the teacher intervene, that’s not cool. Most parents seem to think that this is just typical of Middle & High School but we don’t think so. Why does this have to be “the norm”? Then there were the suicides. I don’t want to get into those. 3 in a 6 month period with other kids threatening self harm around her. Those moments were super stressful for her. In the end, Alex didn’t actually like running start or staying in her high school. She was envious of Sam’s schedule and the idea of being home and doing things on her own terms. We just were lucky enough to be able to facilitate their desires because we work from home. Obviously, if we didn’t, they’d still be in their respective local schools.
Q. How did you pick the school they are in?
A. Research. I did a LOT of research. In the end it came down to 3 programs offered in our state (Washington) who all had the best academic test scores, reviews by parents and students and that had dedicated teachers. Every program differed. We were kind of wanting something more hands off for parents. We didn’t want to be Sam’s Teachers because we knew that we had our own work to do and really, we know our kid as well as ourselves. We didn’t want to kill one another. Also, each program had online systems and courses offered that also differed. We also made calls to the 3 programs and went with what felt right for us. Here is the link to the State of Washington’s, Digital Learning Department at the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. This site was a great starting point to figure out what was a legitimate and accredited program, what grades were offered in each program, and it had all scores and reviews posted. Start here if you are interested in looking into a program for your kid(s).
Q. Is Online Public School Expensive?
A. There is no cost. Sure, if you go with a program like K-12 or a Private Online School, there are fees. Also, there can be some Public Schools that may charge you fees for supplies. Our school has zero fees/costs and really, we’ve saved so much money in school supplies it’s ridiculous. All we use are Composition Notebooks for each of their online classes for note taking, a Computer/Laptop (which each already had) and any pens and pencils. Oh, and WiFi access which we already pay for. For us, there are ZERO fees.
Q. Can your kids still participate in their local school sports or programs?
A. This one always makes me giggle. Our kids are SO not interested in Sports – besides dancing or theatre sports. The official answer is No. Because we have to have our kids registered in another School District via waivers approved by our local school district, we gave up their rights to be involved.
Q. Do they have homework?
A. Not in the way traditional homework works. They are doing their lessons and assignments from home so there really isn’t any differentiation between an ‘in class’ lesson/assignment and something they need to work on from home. It’s all home work.
Q. How many hours a day do they do school?
A. I could tell you what is officially required but they don’t meet those hours. Some days they might not do any school at all while on another day they might spend 7hrs on a Sunday focused to make up for work missed during the week due to their dance/theatre schedules. Generally though, they each created their own schedules and timelines. Sam likes to work on each subject (he has 5 currently and his dance counts as his P.E. for his 6th course) daily. He works from 9am to 2pm with a lunch break and a couple of short breaks scattered in M-F. Each week and day can change though depending on what is going on in all of our lives. Alex likes to work for several hours a day on a single subject. Right now she’s focused on finishing her Government class and wants to finish it by next week – 4 months early. Some days she does no school and others she does it all day. It just depends really. It works for them and us.
Q. Can you see their grades?
A. Yup. Parents have our own login codes to see their grade books and to see how far along they are. I know now that each Semester is 18 weeks long and can see if they are lagging behind, way ahead or right on track with each class. Right now they both have Mostly A’s with a couple of B+’s littered in. We pay lots of attention and check them to make sure they turn down fun time, down time or babysitting gigs if they need to focus more on school. The great thing is that they are so conscientious about their studies that ‘checking’ them doesn’t result in a lot of pushing back. They go do what they need to. We also receive regular update emails from their teachers as to their progress and if they are on track, behind or ahead and if there are any concerns or even just cheering them on.
Q. How do they turn in assignments and take tests?
A. Online – that’s the short answer. For Language Arts for example, Sam only has ‘some’ assignments to write up and send in. He does so in a Word ‘like’ program in their online system and presses “Submit” and then Trudy gets it, grades it and gives back any comments needed. Trudy’s been Sam’s teacher 2yrs now and we love her. Anywho, Sam was lazy on his last written assignment turned in and Trudy sent him an email (we get copies of all their emails) stating:
: ) Trudy
It was a great conversation for us to have with Sam to remind him to not get lazy. Most of the time, at the end of each lesson and course, they are given multiple choice quizzes and tests. They take them and get their results immediately. If they got a B, they know it. They are also shown what question they got wrong and we require them to find out the correct answer just so they know it for themselves. It’s real time grades and they can also see how much they have completed, percentage wise, with their Semester or year long class.
Last year, Sam had to take state testing for Language Arts and Math at his local School – his old school. He rode his scooter there, breezed through his tests with ease, chatted with some old school friends and headed home. Alex hasn’t had to do any state testing as they don’t really need to for her Senior year.
Q. How are they learning compared to being in a ‘real’ classroom?
A. Way better. We didn’t really think this would be the case but they are retaining more information. Even if they aren’t in love with the subject matter they are always learning, they both are really ‘getting’ it. Their level of understanding and retention are so much higher than before. Especially for Sam. In classrooms, he was distracted easily. He didn’t like raising his hand to have his teacher repeat things so, he just didn’t understand topic and teachings. Until he started online public school he didn’t think he liked learning. He now LOVES it. He’s taking 3 High School Credit Classes because he wanted to take Art History, Geography and Anatomy/Physiology. This morning he was telling us about how much he loved his Anatomy class. Yesterday he learned about Osteoporosis and today he and Shawn were discussing Human Anatomy Systems. Shawn was telling him how much he loved the pictures and Sam was all like “why?” and they had a fun discussion about why he was fascinated about how the human body worked and seeing it from the ‘inside’. Even though we see them every day, throughout the day, we ask them what they studied or learned today. When Alex was taking Civics last semester she struggled with the first 2 months because it was hard to understand. We both worked closely with her to help her understand the concepts and she also worked with her teachers BUT, when she got to the section about voting and how the system works it she took a huge interest in the presidential debates. We watch every debate together (from both sides) and discuss them throughout. She has strong opinions and ideas and can’t wait to cast her very first Presidential Vote later this year.
Q. What do you really do for Online P.E.?
A. For most people it’s probably a joke and they make up things but, Sam dances 22-30hrs a week so he logs way more hours than required. Alex also takes Multiple Dance classes weekly and when she is in shows she does WAY more physical activity that counts towards her P.E. Class Requirements. She too exceeds her requirements.
Q. Do you get sick of one another being together all day long?
A. It’s surprising but No. I really thought they’d both get more on my nerves. There have been times where they both have interrupted me a few too many times while I was trying to get some work done but for the most part, it’s been awesome. We usually eat an early dinner together around 1pm during their ‘lunch’ time. Most days they are both at the Theatre or Dance from 4-9pm so they bring Lunch type foods for their Dinner breaks. This way we get to have ‘family dinner’ time as much as possible. Some days we fail but wee all look forward to our daily meal together. They also eat breakfast at different times so that’s when we get our morning time together with each of them before they head upstairs to start school. We actually love that we get to see them all throughout the day. On the occasion that one of them is sick, they can just stay in bed or come down and watch movies on the couch while we work. It’s been great for us. Some days they get annoyed with us or one another.
Q. Why would your daughter choose her Senior year to leave her friends and High School?
A. Honestly, she realized that she’d moved on already emotionally. Her school friends aren’t the people who she really relates to. We asked her so many times if she was sure she wanted to give up Prom, walking down the aisle for graduation, Senior Skip day, etc. All she wanted was for us to have a graduation party for her when she graduates and the rest of the stuff doesn’t matter to her. Also, Alex has Senior-itis. It’s a real thing. She’s just done with school. She says it ‘less-sucks’ being home doing school than having to actually go to school somewhere. She’s got 4 more months before she officially graduates and she is D.O.N.E. So, her attitude is that she’d rather do anything but schoolwork right now as she’s ready to focus on her passions. We were worried that she’d regret her decision but so far, so good.
Q. What about Honors or AP Classes? Do they have that in Online School?
A. They do have these classes. In fact, Alex had been in honors Math & English and initially set up her online Public School with them. About 2 weeks into school this year she was like “what am I doing? I’m not planning on going to college and I’m so sick of school, why am I purposely choosing to make my life harder right now?” Because really, it was WAY harder than non-honors/AP classes. So, she called her teacher after discussing it at length with us, and she dropped those classes and transferred them to regular classes. She also dropped her honors Math and took Mythology instead since she already has enough Math credits for graduation. She takes Chemistry (which is actually pretty simple), US Government, US History, Creative Writing and her Senior required course – High School and Beyond, and her PE Logs for this final Semester. Sam isn’t officially in Honors classes per se however he is taking 3 High School Credit classes that are considered 9th and 10th grade courses and he has A’s in all 3.
Q. I heard that the Online Programs are like Video Games, is this true? That seems weird.
A. It depends on whether it’s a Fuel or Odyssey program and what grade and course it is. For example both kids prefer to use the Compass Odyssey system which is simpler and more ‘video’ like whereas Fuel is more technical and is more reading based. Depending on your kids learning style and age – you can choose either. The Fuel system has more options for courses while the Odyssey program is more limited but is easier to maneuver. And, it’s not weird – it’s pretty cool. That’s what initially got Shawn and I behind Sam’s decision to go the Online School route. We took demos of the Courses and both programs to check them out. We knew Sam would really like the Odyssey program but he tried out both before choosing it. You an actually take some Fuel and some Odyssey classes but some kids find it hard to hop between the two programs. Alex does take one class via Fuel – creative writing. With Fuel though, there is the added issue of having another Teacher for each Fuel Class they are enrolled in. With Odyssey, they just have Paula or Trudy. Alex really likes Fuel better but because Odyssey is simpler, and again, she has Senior-itis, she chose the easier path. She still learns just as much but there are less hoops to jump through.
Q. When you go on your trip around the world, how will Sam do School? Will you still do online school or start Home Schooling?
A. He will stick with Online School. We need to make sure that we have our WiFi system set up and in place and have been researching all of our options for both Schooling and WiFi access. It’ll be hard enough to focus while traveling so we have to make sure that WiFi is abundant and with us at all times. The amount of research we’ve done is crazy. We’ll share that on another post, another day, once we figure out our final plans.
Q. Do your kids ever think about going back to regular school?
A. Alex doesn’t. Not at all. Sam prefers School from home but he does sometimes wonder if he might like going to High School. He knows that we will never permanently move back to Mukilteo or Washington State so he’ll never go to High School with his former schoolmates. But, if we settle long term somewhere else after our Trip ends next year and we find a good school in an area where he can pursue his dance, and he wants to, we are totally open to putting him back in. It’s really all about what’s best for him though. He is so much more confident about learning, his studies, and how smart he is. Truth be told, he wasn’t very confident about any of these things before online public school. He’d thrive socially for sure but would have to be in honors classes and be surrounded by studious and focused kids in a classroom though. We shall see what is in store for him after our trip. Sam’s favorite thing about Online School is that he can go at his own pace and his teacher isn’t irritated when he needs more clarification on something. His least favorite thing is not being able to hang out with friends during school.
Q. What do you (parents) like best about Online Public School?
A. Flexibility. It fits in our life well. The kids can skip ahead and finish an entire class months before the semester is up. Take time off easily when they are tired or ill or have an event or performance. Work around their schedules. They both learn at their own pace and can hang out more with us. We can eat family dinner together anytime in the day, same with breakfast. Just when they take a break – we can spend time together or we can watch their favorite shows on the DVR. We even took one day and played Cards Against Humanity. Family bonding at it’s best.
Q. Is there anything you (parents) don’t like about Online Schooling?
A. I’ve thought about this a lot. I love it. If it was up to me Alex would’ve done it last year too and Sam would continue it until he graduates.
The only real negative though is something I never expected – Other people’s issues with our choices and lifestyle – and how happy we are about it. Especially from people I never expected it from. It is weird to have people irritated or even mad at me for posting how happy I was when there was a pretty bad lock down at our daughter’s old High School. Parents were frantic and I was upset. Parents were commenting all over a local FB group and on their news feeds trying to find out information. Our kids were glued to the TV, police scanners and worried about their friends and teachers. Just the week before Alex had gone to the Drama department to teach a few classes in the morning on theatre games. She could easily have been there that morning having coffee with her drama teacher during her free period, as they sometimes do because they are also buddies and miss one another. I was just so relieved for my own kids. I have had people, and even long time friends, assume that I was judging them for keeping their kids in Public School. I even had one really good friend say that I made her feel like a horrible parent for doing so during the lock down. I was so upset by this. That anyone, especially someone who really knows me well, would ever think that about me. Sure, sometimes I share too much. I get that a parent with a child in the lock down would wish their kid was home with them too but choosing to be mad at me or thinking I was insensitive ‘to you’ is silly to me. I was worried for ALL the kids there, especially the ones we knew and their families.
Maybe those of you reading this who have felt like my happiness with our situation is somehow a judgement of you and yours might reconsider. I don’t know. If you still have tude about my posts or our ability to offer this option to our kids perhaps you should look at yourself and take responsibility for any issues or feelings you have instead of projecting them onto me. Unfortunately and fortunately, it’s really made us take closer looks at all of our relationships. The kids as well as us. I want to be around people who cheer one another on. I would rather have less friends who may not want to take our path, nor us theirs, but who support and cheer one another on.
Same with our kids. They have friends who don’t understand why they’d want to leave school – and them. They lost a lot of friends just for being out of sight, out of mind. That was a very tough pill for our son to swallow. It took a long time to move past that one but it was also a HUGE learning and growth opportunity for him.
Don’t get me wrong, more people think what we are doing is awesome. Most people are supportive and even curious. I’ve made deeper friendships and connections with acquaintances who are now friends because of our common interest in Home Schooling or Online School.
Q. Do you recommend that anyone able to could/should look at online school?
A. No. This really isn’t for everyone. I know of some families who only have one or some of their kids doing online public school. I mean, it’s a hard transition. It was for both kids. Sam had a very hard time with figuring out how to be a self-studier. I’d say it took a good 4 months of LOTS of frustration between Shawn, Sam and I trying to figure out how to help him adjust to note taking, his schedule, where he was able to focus best and more. Some days sucked for all of us. Tears for him and us feeling like no matter what we said or tried – nothing was working. We felt many time like throwing in the towel. But, once we got a hold of what really worked for Sam – he was OFF. He blossomed. It was, and is, wonderful to see his excitement over his accomplishments. If it was for everyone, then everyone would be doing it right? It’s a personal and family decision. That’s it. It just so happens that while our kids are both very different people, learners and have totally different social needs – this was the right choice at the right time for each of them.
Q. What do you think of Home Schooling?
A. I didn’t really look much into it. I knew I didn’t want to be our kid’s teacher and Mom. I know myself well enough to know that I wouldn’t be able to be awesome at both so I chose to be an awesome mom only. I now know lots of home schooling families and it works for them. Again, some have all kids home schooled and some have just one – who it makes sense for. I have a friend in Canada who decided that she was going to Home School her kids to fit their lifestyle but also because they were young and she didn’t feel like their school system was really going to give them the best education. She now pays for all of their books and programs, it’s not cheap, but they are thriving. For now it works for them but they may put them in school again if it makes sense. I think the most important thing is to do your research and figure out your options.
Q. Can your kids go to college if they graduate from an online school
A. Totally. You just need to make sure you have an accredited school and program first. Next, you need to make sure that the required courses taken are not just what’s required for your program to graduate but for the type of school your child would want to attend. For example, in our current district Alex has enough math credits to graduate but for our local district she needs one more credit. Make sure you really understand how these requirements work. Our daughter absolutely does not want to go to college. Our son is possibly interested in attending a performing arts school or fashion design institute but not a typical university. Teach yourself. Google, yes Google your questions to help you get started on the path to learning. Also, grades and extracurriculars come into play as well.
Q. Do you and Shawn get time to yourselves?
A. Totally. they are gone every evening from 4-9 most weeks so we get lots of dinner and movies nights. We also like doing errands together. Gets us out of the house, alone together and we’ll sometimes go to lunch or just have some fun time. Don’t forget. We also work from home together so we are together 24/7. What we don’t get much of is personal alone time so when the occasion occurs that we kind of need to just recharge by ourselves, the other one covers and does all the driving that day schlepping the kids around and dealing with meals and stuff. It doesn’t happen often but when it does, we both step up for the other one.
And, this one is the very best question…
Q. Do your kids thank you for giving them this opportunity?
A. YES. They sure have and do. They appreciate us and how fortunate they are to have options. They are the most appreciative kids that it makes it an easy decision to figure out ways to make things work for them.
Do You have Questions about Online Public School? Ask me!
Post comments below with any questions you have and I’ll be sure to answer or refer you to an answer if I can.