Guide to Virtual Schools

For a year and a half of my High School education, I never set foot inside a school building. I completed assignments from the comfort of my bedroom, working at my own pace (a relatively fast pace) and pursuing hobbies and interests the rest of the time. Following is a testimonial regarding the ups and downs of virtual High School.

I may not be a common case: I wanted to drop out of school because I was bored. Classes dragged on while a teacher spent hours on the same topic, hammering it into kids’ heads until they got it. I, having understood the concept the first time through, spent my hours doodling and napping. My grades were excellent – my spirits were poor. In January of my first year, I begged my mother to help me find an alternative.

We considered homeschooling – she didn’t have the time. We looked at tutoring – too expensive. We searched for a while, growing less hopeful at each letdown. One day we happened upon a website for the Christa McAuliffe Academy, based out of Yakima, Washington. It didn’t take long for me to jump on the idea of an online-based High School.

It seemed like the perfect solution. It allowed me to learn what I would learn in high school anyway, except I could learn it as fast as I wanted to – I could get to the information at the rate I could absorb it. Most of the lessons were simple programs with diagrams and text written by teachers. Performance was rated by mini-tests given after each lesson. I was hooked.

I worked about two hours a day on my school work. I kept a schedule of my own, taking jobs at local eateries to make pocket money. I felt as though I had a life of my own, and that I had been able to make my education into what I had always felt it to be: an obligation. A requirement set before me by the system at large. I still felt like I was fulfilling an obligation, but at least I could do it at my own pace.

Our progress was checked each week in a “Virtual Classroom,” a program that is similar to some conferencing software on the market today – we had audio and chat capabilities, as well as a “blackboard” that the teacher controlled. There were approximately 6 or 7 kids to each V-Class. Beyond that, there was almost constant email contact between students and the teacher they had been assigned. In this way, we were free to work as we wished, but we still were watched over by teachers who had our best interests in mind.

After a year and a half of controlling my own time, working on schoolwork as I saw fit, I began to feel like something was missing. My musical endeavors, a big reason for my wanting to have more control of my time, were more fruitful than ever – I had a fairly successful band, somewhat famous in our region. It was good. I was happy, but still felt that something was wrong. I remember the exact instant when I figured it out. I was on the phone with my father, and I said out loud, “Whoa, I don’t see ANYbody anymore!”

It was true. My social life was nonexistent. I saw people at shows, and the members of my band, and that was it. I felt fulfilled in the sense that I was “getting a lot done.” I felt terribly unfulfilled in the sense that it didn’t matter if I had nobody to share it with. I ended up returning to my public school at the beginning of Junior year – I finished my time there still occasionally bored, but certainly more grateful for the extracurricular aspects of the school.

As a result, my opinion on virtual schooling is mixed: I see it as a temporary solution to one’s problem. From my point of view anyway – I can see it being much more viable for an adolescent with social issues, or for a whiz kid who is able to find community elsewhere. For me, however, it solved a few problems and created others (I should mention this is through no fault of the school itself – it’s just the situation I chose to place myself in that made things difficult.)

Anyway, however old-fashioned or hopelessly American-Dreamy it may sound, I am a solid believer in there being no good substitute for a good old public High School education. The values, skills, and habits kids learn in this institution are priceless – well worth the time spent doodling at their desk.