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Back-to-school virtually: Separating fact from fiction

Every principal looks forward to the first day of school when students return with fresh minds eager to learn and ready to work. But as students prepare to hit the books, some of them won't have to take the bus to school, wander the halls looking...

Every principal looks forward to the first day of school when students return with fresh minds eager to learn and ready to work. But as students prepare to hit the books, some of them won't have to take the bus to school, wander the halls looking for classrooms or search rows of desks to find their seat.

Virtual schooling with Wisconsin Connections Academy allows students to receive a top-notch public education online from the comfort of their homes.

Virtual education is an increasingly popular alternative to traditional brick and mortar classroom, but many parents still don't fully understand online learning and how it works.

Virtual public schooling is not homeschooling. In fact, the two are quite different. Virtual public schools deliver public education to a student's home at no cost that combines state-certified teachers and a rigorous curriculum that correlates to state standards. At WCA, students learn at home under the guidance of a Wisconsin certified teacher. A Learning Coach, typically a parent, assists the student in day-to-day activities. Our teachers work directly with both the student and Learning Coach to develop an individual learning plan, provide instruction and evaluate assignments.

Yet virtual school students don't sit in front of a computer all day. The computer is a tool for teachers and parents to manage and track assignments, communicate and deliver interactive lessons, but it is not the only tool students use. Students complete many assignments "unplugged," and spend time reading library books and textbooks, using workbooks and doing hands-on experiments -- just like a traditional school.

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Virtual students at our school also have many opportunities to interact with each other. Like all kids, they instant message, text, or talk to each other on the phone, but WCA also sets up a number of field trips each month so students can get together as a group. Many of the students find the flexibility of virtual education makes it possible to be involved in activities, such as sports, music, travel and volunteering.

All virtual schools may seem the same, but they are not all created equally. Parents need to do homework and find a school with a proven track record of delivering student academic achievement and high levels of parent and student satisfaction. Parents should consider whether or not the program is accredited by a highly regarded accrediting body such as AdvancED. They should look for a school that offers a full-time program with certified and highly qualified teachers, state-of-the-art technology and extracurricular activities like clubs and field trips.

As a principal, I know every parent wants their child to receive the best education possible. There are many options available for families to consider, which is why it is important to have a complete and accurate picture of virtual schooling. Ultimately, you must decide if virtual schooling is right for your student, but one thing I know for certain -- all of my students at Wisconsin Connections Academy are receiving a quality education that is second to none.

Michelle Mueller is principal of Wisconsin Connections Academy, out of Appleton, Wis.

Related Topics: EDUCATIONTECHNOLOGY
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