Support and flexibility — that is what has drawn local parents to enrolling their students in Bradley County Virtual School.
For Jan Walker’s children, Anastasia and Xander Hanes, the virtual school was one of their few options after a similar program did not receive state approval for their high school.
Walker said she originally chose virtual school out of Union County last year for her daughter, to help prepare her for high school.
“She was getting into things that I couldn’t help her with as much [during home-schooling]. Making the curriculum was a lot more challenging for a high schooler than a grade schooler. … I was starting to worry I might not be able to give her everything that she needed.”
In order to have both her children in similar school settings, Walker also enrolled her son in the school.
This year, Walker had planned to enroll her children in the program, but was left with few options in July when she found out that the Union County Virtual School had not been accredited for high school.
By that time it was too late to register Anastasia at the local out-of-zone high school she wanted to attend. Walker said this left the virtual school as her only option.
Previously Walker, who has a degree in education, had home-schooled her children.
“The thing I like about the Bradley County one, as opposed to some of the other ones, is there is in-person interaction,” Walker said. “If they have a question, they can instantly email a teacher and they are gotten back to within 24 hours.”
Walker has also liked that she can call the teachers. She said there is a lot of support for the students and parents from the program.
“I couldn’t be more happy with their level of support,” Walker said.
Because the classwork is completed online through Odyssey Ware, students can complete the lessons anywhere and everywhere they can carry a laptop and have a wireless connection. For Xander Hanes, that’s his living room couch. Anastasia prefers to do her work in her bedroom.
One element that has been different for Walker and her children has been how the school hours are recorded.
The Bradley County program requires students to complete 32.5 hours of instruction a week. Hours are tracked through Odyssey Ware. Hours for off-line activities are logged and submitted to the school. At least 20 hours a week of class work is completed online while additional time might be spent online or completing research or assignments off-line.
“I was worried that it (Odyssey Ware) might be not as challenging as I wanted it to be, but it is,” Walker said. “Both the kids are challenged but not to the point that they become frustrated.”
For the elementary (considered through sixth grade in the virtual school) curriculum P.E. and fine arts credit do not have a curriculum. However, parents are given a list of suggestions of what would qualify and can ask school administrators if they are unsure an activity would fill the requirement. High school students also keep track of hours they spend doing research for required essays and reports.
Walker also said sometimes the lessons do not take as long a time as outlined. Walker said this has allowed her students to work ahead.
Students at the elementary level have already had the opportunity to meet fellow students in the school. High school students will meet each other during a field trip to Chickamauga Battlefield in North Georgia, according to high school parent Crystal Kimsey.
Flexibility was the main reason Kimsey liked the virtual option. She said it has been like an answered prayer for her son and his girlfriend.
“Both of them are seniors in high school. (She) is expecting a baby in a few weeks. My son will be 18 in October. This gives him an opportunity as soon as he turns 18 to try to find full-time work to provide for them,” Kimsey said.
She said the option will give the students flexibility to finish their remaining high school work around the demanding schedules of work and caring for a baby.
“This way if the baby does keep her up, she has an opportunity to sleep and do her schoolwork whenever the baby is sleeping,” Kimsey said.
The official deadline for enrollment in the school had ended when Kimsey heard about the program and thought it would be a good fit. However, the principal at the students’ zoned high school was able to talk with the principal of the virtual school, and the students were able to enroll in the virtual program. These high school seniors have said they feel the virtual school has more assignments than a traditional class. Kimsey said the courses require multiple essays. She said this additional workload is to make up for the lack of in-class projects.
The program allows students to work ahead, making it possible for students like Kimsey’s son to finish early.
Kimsey said the couple has been able to help each other in other subjects where one is struggling and the other has a better grasp on the material. Students also have the option to Skype a teacher if they have a major issue.
The flexibility of the system also does not limit a student to what days or times they can complete the work.