Most teachers will tell you that their students are the best part of their job. And that’s no different at a school like Connections Academy, a tuition-free online public school that’s been delivering a high-quality online learning experience for 20 years. Melissa Brown, the executive director of Connections Academy Schools, told us that the thing that gets her excited to go to work every day are her students and their families. She really gets to know them—and she really understands why online schooling is the perfect solution for so many students.
Why Online School?
Kids come to online school for a wide variety of reasons, but what’s common to all of them is the search for something they’re not getting in their local schools. Kids who learned from home during COVID may have loved being able to sleep in without worrying about running for a bus. Or, maybe they liked the quiet and convenience of learning from home without distraction. Now that COVID is beginning to wane, students and families are starting to think seriously about next school year and their full range of options—including online school.
“I think about all the times a parent called me to say something like, ‘I got my child back,’” says Brown, whether it was being able to make a fresh start from a bullying situation or working towards regaining their mental health and wellbeing. She thinks about her LGBTQ students who’ve found a safe, accepting place at Connections Academy, or about the USA Swimming and Diving Olympians who will be able to compete in this summer’s Olympics because of the flexible Connections Academy schedule that allowed time for their rigorous training schedules. “Sitting in this seat, you really see the value of alternative options—and the way that it can really and truly save lives,” she says.
Personal Connections Are Key
It’s easy to think that online school would be an impersonal experience, but it’s quite the opposite. At Connections Academy, each student has a personalized learning plan. They might have a flexible schedule within the day or week, which is music to the ears of late-rising teens and their parents. Each student’s plan will also accelerate or remediate as their individual needs require. Parents are wrapped into the learning plan as informed partners in the learning process, and one-to-one communication with teachers are the norm at Connections Academy.
Perhaps it’s surprising to families whose only experience with online learning was the bare-bones crisis learning of COVID times, but online learning also typically wraps in quite a lot of in-person and social activities. That might include special-interest clubs, in-person field trips and dances— yes, even prom! Brown’s nephew attended Connections Academy for many years and said that prom was the highlight of the year—kids are so excited to see their friends face-to-face for this special event. Of course, students also develop friendships in the same way they would if they were attending in person: via texting and social media. (Teens are teens, wherever and however they go to school.)
Beyond the Screen
Just as with social life at online school, much of the academics are also offline. No kid should be sitting in front of Zoom for 6-7 hours. Online schools know this and have worked for decades to plan assignments and programming that minimize staring at screens. Reading, written work, field trips, and other offline learning are key parts of online schooling, while the screen is important mostly for communication, managing assignments, and interactive instruction.
In our interview with Melissa, we found that Connections Academy was full of surprises—and we loved hearing all that Melissa had to share about this option that works for so many kids. We invite you to take a look, too: