Typically, at this time of year, teens are perusing back-to-school fashions, double-checking class schedules, and wondering who will be in their lunch period. But this is not a typical year. Instead, we’re wondering when and if our kids will be returning to school—and whether we even want them to.
If you’re feeling apprehensive about sending kids back to a traditional classroom, you’re far from alone. In fact, a survey from Outschool found that 61% of parents report they don’t feel comfortable sending their children to school until a vaccine is available. And while 40% are considering a virtual learning approach, one concern repeatedly pops up, particularly for parents of teenagers: How will my kid socialize? After all, we know that school is so much more than classes and tests, as we all found out during lockdown.
The good news is that an online environment can be “as social as an in-person setting,” says Rachelle Wafer, Student Engagement Manager at Laurel Springs School, a fully accredited online private school for students in grades K-12. Wondering how? She filled us in on how things work at her school.
Join the club
From Foodie Club for those who crave culinary adventures, to Scrubs Club for those looking toward a career in health, Laurel Springs hosts over 30 virtual clubs, where students meet like-minded teens to explore their interests. “At these gatherings, students are conversing, working together, and even assuming leadership roles,” Wafer says.
Similar to an in-person setting, there are so many great social options that it’s possible for kids to become overwhelmed. Wafer recommends parents help teens identify a few clubs that align with their interests and talents, and then choose two or three about which they feel most passionate. “It’s better to become fully engaged in fewer clubs than to dabble in so many clubs that it’s hard to fulfill commitments,” she points out.
Or start your own
Kids at Laurel Springs often come up with new ideas for clubs. “I encourage students to think about the purpose of the club, what activities would take place during meetings, and whether it’s feasible for an online space,” Wafer says. Once a student establishes the basics, an aspiring club founder focuses in on the particulars—the club name and description, age range of students eligible to join, how often the club will meet, and the role of student leadership. Once students have nailed down the outline and variables, they can then propose the club and open it for members.
Participate in a private social network
Is your teen sick of scrolling through a parade of “influencers?” Laurel Springs offers its students a private social network designed to make meaningful connections in a safe, monitored environment. “What is most evident is the creative, silly, and fun tone that’s also supportive, respectful, and helpful,” Wafer says. “Students appreciate that it’s safe to be yourself and cool to be encouraging when you post.” It doesn’t mean your teen will have to forgo the latest memes. Wafer says that art form is alive and well, with students creating and posting interesting, insightful, and often humorous expressions of both celebratory and challenging times.
Find your engagement style
“Teens like to be able to engage online in the ways that work best for them,” says Wafer, “whether that means conversing in the chat box or being on mic and using the webcam.” As she explains, the Laurel Springs online space provides time to warm up to a new environment and connect in a way that’s comfortable for a teen, even if that’s simply attending an event without actively participating in conversations until they are ready. “Students often mention that this allows them to build confidence at their own pace, and that socializing in a virtual environment has allowed them to share who they really are.”
Yes, there is a prom!
A virtual prom? That’s how many of us celebrated this year—and we might not want to again next year. But (conditions permitting) Laurel Springs hosts in-person, year-end celebration events, where Wafer says students “immediately display a true bond based on their months or years of connecting online.”
“Our prom dance floor is full, from the first to the last song, and it’s clear these students really know and value each other, as well as sincerely enjoy each other’s company,” she says. While they make genuine connections online, “the in-person events are where you truly see the huge impact these virtual connections have on socialization.”
Whether you’re ready to take the leap to online learning or still exploring your options, you can learn more about Laurel Springs online and find the answers to more frequently asked questions.