“Many schools are now implementing online class options, and building online experiences, to enhance their students’ 21st century education experience... they are rethinking school.” ~ Heidi Higgins
(Transcript available below)
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Heidi Higgins: Hi there. I'm Heidi Higgins, and you are listening to K12 On Learning. The pandemic and the growing frequency of school security issues has forced parents, teachers, and legislators to rethink school. During the pandemic, traditional schools learned that online education was something they were not prepared to handle. It was a huge wake up call for all in education. Changes needed to be made. Teachers were not trained in online technology or how to teach online.
Thankfully, many schools are implementing online class options and building online experiences to enhance their students' 21st century education experience. They are rethinking school, but even with the recognition that changes must be made, the traditional school pain points still lurk in the lives of students and their families. You know what I'm talking about. Things like trying to get kids out the door in the early morning, dealing with separation anxiety, especially with little ones, the financial burden of buying clothing,supplies, school lunch, even activity cards that all keep going up. Long, long bus rides with little supervision for your little ones or for your teens, for that matter.
These things make parents uneasy, but is it okay just because that's how it's been done? What is the reasoning for hours of homework after the six hour plus bus ride day. School time leaves little for family life and play. It's frustrating that where you live, and the school boundaries you find yourself within, may limit your child's ability to get the education they need. Heightened security means that even if you have time to help, some schools won't let you on the property. It's time to rethink school. The president of National School Choice Week Andrew Campanella spoke of rethinking school this way.
Andrew Campanella: There is such demand out there for parents to be able to find learning environments that do work for their kids. And we know that when they go through that process, and a record number of families are going through that process of choosing, actively choosing, schools for their kids, good things do happen. Students are more likely to succeed. Parents are more likely to be happy.
Heidi Higgins: I began to rethink school years before the pandemic. It started for me when one of my daughters hated to go to school. She wouldn't turn in assignments. Although I had been alongside her as they were completed during our evening homework time, and they were sent with her to school each day, she just wasn't happy. Her perfect grades began to slide. And as it turned out, she did not want to be recognized for getting good grades. You would think it would be nice to get a shout out from the teacher about such things, but her fellow students razzed her about it. Schooling came easy for her, but boy, oh boy, she learned that it was okay to lay low and get average grades so that she fit in a little better. She did not want to be bullied even when it was for something as great as academic achievement.
A few months later, I learned about online schooling and felt strongly I needed to enroll this struggling, but gifted, daughter. It was a courageous decision. Nobody knew about online schooling in those days. It was something that needed to happen in my home. Not only did I enroll that sixth grader, but my fourth grader and my first grader as well. That was the very first year an online option was offered in my state. And that was 20 years ago. I have no regrets at that time, not one, but I had to rethink my life and it was the best decision I couldhave made for my children. This is daughter Jackie.
Jackie: My mom was always there for us. She also made sure that we stayed involved in many things, the local youth activities. We were involved in the community because my mom was. I enjoyed the flexibility of my schooling hours. We could finish early and have the afternoon to play. I remember many days getting our schoolwork done and just going and playing on the trampoline with my sisters or playing dollhouse for hours and hours.
Those memories are ones that I hold very dear. My sisters and I have all gone on to receive college degrees. I love sharing my experience with people that I meet and seeing their shock when they discover that I was homeschooled. I love to share with them all the opportunities that I got to have and the lifestyle I lived. Being at home also provided us with an opportunity to be able to learn more about how a home is run and be a part of the systems our family used to run our home.
My dad had us, at an early age, learn how to manage the bills for our home and to be responsible for the electricity and the water and personally learn those things at a young age. We were prepared when we left the home to be able to run a home. I was a part of the student ambassador program through my school and my experience there prepared me for, in college, being a student ambassador for my university.
Heidi Higgins: When we decided to rethink education in our home, we did a lot of research and we ended up choosing online school. But I also learned that there were five main things that had to change. First of all, rethinking the home space and how things would fit is something many families wonder. Joan Gramm is a learning coach and a blogger. You can find her creative and thought provoking blog on Facebook. It's called Oh My Gramm. Joan rethinks her learning space every year because her daughters are growing.
Joan Gramm: This year, again, we have redone our school room. We switched to a larger room, so it's now half my craft room, half their school room because my husband started working from home. So we had to rethink how we were going to do things to make it all work for us again. And it gave us more space at the end of the day, too. I love creating a space. This year, I went for colorful, but I lovecreating a space that's encouraging and fun to be in because Kinsley's going to end up spending a lot more time in here than you realize during the school year.
And then both of my girls love playing Minecraft. So they both have their own desktops this year. And I wanted it to be a place that they enjoy being in and when they come in, they're ready to learn, excited to be like in a school setting, but at home. That's why we do a whole separate area for school because at the end of the day, too, when school's over, they have the opportunity to leave school behind and go do other things.
Heidi Higgins: The second thing that I had to rethink when I chose to school the children online was my willingness to reach out to the teacher when I had questions, quickly, before frustration set in. Patricia Negron is the parent of three graduates of an online school and she has this to offer.
Patricia Negron: It's a lesson for life. It's not just a lesson for school. That it's okay to ask for help. That it's okay to ask for understanding. That you're not expected to just naturally know how something works or what the answer is. That's what schooling and teaching is all about. It's difficult to describe to someone who hasn't experienced it, but it's a very different settingthan to attend school in person, as I certainly did when I was in K through 12 school, to attend school virtually. I think the virtual school actually has more of a focus on the learning and what's needed for the education, whereas the traditional settinghas a sort of social component that could interfere with actually what's needing to happen in the school setting.
Heidi Higgins: I was surprised that one of the things that I needed to rethink was ramping up for the school year. Even shopping for supplieswas different when you choose an online school. Sheena Banks has a second grader and she talks about rethinking school supplies, shopping, and preparation.
Sheena Banks: I am buying pencils and construction paper. That's the only thing I have to buy. I bought a lot of notebooks last year because I didn't know what to expect, and so I have plenty of those left over. We'll just be using the notebooks from last year. I did not have to buy a lot of school clothes. That's one thing, for sure. And I really only bought the clothes because she just outgrew her last ones. That's the only reason why I bought the other ones. She's a growing child. And so she's growing so fast and that's really the only reason why I had to buy new clothes.
And I know traditional schools, they have to buy all of the sprays and the sanitizers and all of those things. And that's just something we didn't have to buy. We already have them at the house so we didn't have to buy those things, as I would have if she was going to brick and mortar to school. It's very cost efficient. I can just say that. And we just buy the things that we want to buy because Stride provides everything that we need. We just buy the extra stuff. The pencils and markers and different things like that.
Heidi Higgins: In one of our recent blog posts, Joan Gramm discusses the question that everybody asks. What about socialization? It was certainly something we had to rethink, but not as hard as you would suppose.
Joan Gramm: So I talked about my top five ways to get socialization for you as the learning coach and your students when attending an online school. And it can be really challenging for some people to think outside the box because common thought is students get all their socialization from school. And I get askedall the time. A past public education person tell me, "Don't worry about it. You can differ between positive socialization now and negative socialization and decide where they're getting that socialization."
So my first one is local mom groups or just parenting groups and general. And that can go for your learning coach communities too, on Facebook and on the K12 app. You have support out there and sometimes finding the perfect mom group can be really intimidating and hard, but I've joined a couple and found one I really like. And I just spent the first few weeks feeling out the group and just watching posts and comments to see if it's the type of environment, if it has a positivity that you want to be involved in.
And then number two is Scouts. We put Kinsley in Girl Scouts this year and my husband and I both became troop helpers and volunteers. And this year I'm a new co-leader for another troop. It's been an adventure. She absolutely loves it, and she's made quite a few friends there. And so have I, just making more connections and getting out. Number three is sports and any sports, not just your typical sports. Dance classes and cheer too. I've looked into cheer, but we put Kinsley and Cora both in softball and T-ball this last year and we have been so blessed with absolutely amazing family of friends from the team that we hang out with regularly now. And the girls have made best friends just from being in sports. It was quite an eye opening experience for me.
I had such high social anxiety. I wouldn't want to leave the house. I'd be terrified to leave the house and didn't have friends myself. And then now I'm making friends because we're putting the girls out there and getting them involved, so we're all making friends. Number four is local playgrounds and parks because eight times out of 10, there's going to be other kids at the park and kids just naturally want to play together when they see other children. So we have a park less than a mile near our house, and we go there. The girls end up with friends every time we go.
So number five is check out groups at your local public library that your city puts on, rec centers and many more places within your own area, local area. Because a lot of them, even libraries, will do age groups and group them and Mommy and Me groups for the little younger babies that you may have. That can also get you out, making connections with people in your own community instead of just online too. And then, of course, not mentioning the blog post, but create your own opportunities. I was terrified to leave the house, but once I realized I put myself out there a little bit, it gets easier each time. So as long as you're opening up and creating your own opportunities for socialization, it gets easier as it goes and you can make more friends and connections that way.
Heidi Higgins: Ryan Channel is one of the directors of the learning coach community that Jones spoke of. I encourage you to join there. There's some 40,000 parents who are sharing ideas, giving suggestions and listening.It's been fun to see how many friendships have been fostered from this organization.
Ryan Channel: And my big thing that I focus on is community building in our national learning coach communities and our school communities because we know how important it is for our families to feel connected. And that's really why we created the communities and I, myself, just as a human being, am passionate about community because I know the power behind it.
Our learning coaches shared a desire to be more connected with each other. So we created this virtual village where they can feel seen, known and supported. It's a great place to learn from other learning coaches and to find support and encouragement. I'm in there every day, supporting learning coaches however I can. And it's really fun to just see other learning coaches answering each other's questions or offering advice. And then we often share things in the community first, so that's a great perk of being in there.
We have exclusive content and engagement opportunities that are only shared in the LC community, such as our guest discussion boards, where we have guest moderators come in to share about a certain topic related to schooling. And LCs can ask questions directly to our guest. We recently had a guest discussion board on student success coaches, which are available to our students. And another popular guest discussion board was on joy and learning. Overall, it's just that place to find your people, find people who are on the same journey as you.
Heidi Higgins: One final thought when it comes to rethinking school. I had to not be so hard on myself when things didn't go perfectly. I slowly gained confidence in working with my children day to day. I had to learn to reach out to those communities who could help me and the teachers that were in place for me every school day.
Sheena Banks: I would say, give yourself some grace. Everybody's learning. It's a learning curve, but give yourself some grace. Take your time and create your own schedule. Figure out what works for you and your family. It will work out. I promise you. It seems overwhelming and it seems like it's a lot at first, but you will get it. And it's going to be so exciting. Once you realize, "Hey, I'm actually doing this. We're doing this and my child is learning. They're having a good time. I'm having a good time," that's how it was for us. It was amazing.
Before I knew it, I'm like, "Hey, we are really doing this. You are learning." And it seemed like my child had so much fun. It really did. And Ihad a lot of fun. I don't know who had the most fun. It was probably me. But we had so much fun once we figured out our own groove. And that is the advice I want to give to parents. You will figure it out. And it's going to be amazing and I'm so excited for you.
Heidi Higgins: Thank you for listening to K12 On Learning, sponsored by Stride. To learn more about online public schools powered by Stride K12, Stride Career Prep programs that foster lifelong learning or any of the private school or individual course offerings, please go to stridelearning.com or k12.com. Special thanks to [inaudible 00:16:34] Studios for providing the music for us. Remember to subscribe to this podcast and feel free to leave us a good review. We hope you'll join us next time for K12 On Learning.
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