Virtual school students, parents compare notes

Originally published in the Fort Madison Daily Democrat – September 25, 2019

Lee County residents are blessed with options when it comes to education – public, private and home-schooling, but technology provides a new option.

Virtual school is a concept that is steadily growing in popularity. It is structured and has real time live virtual classrooms. Over the laptop, one can learn a lesson from a teacher and interact with classmates. So, yes it is possible to be late for class, even if class is sitting on your night stand.

They try to incorporate all the fun of traditional school. For Spirit Week, kids posted photos of their crazy outfits. The students are from all over Iowa and the average classroom size is 40. And yes, once a month they meet in person for real field trips.

Local students Roselynn and Juniper Strickland went on their first field trip Monday to physically meet and greet fellow students. The event was held at Big Creek State Park in Polk City, on the beach.

The weather was perfect as the old and new students got together for the sixth consecutive year. Of the 568 students enrolled, 300 families and students showed up .

Iowa Virtual School K-12 program opened 8 years ago. They had 61 students when they first started. It has been growing every year. Families came from all over the state.

Parents are trained as learning coaches. They are responsible for entering the child’s attendance and being sure their child gets to class on time, just like a normal school. Physical education is also a requirement that parents oversee. Juniper for example, goes to the YMCA to workout with her mom a couple times a week. If a parent isn’t comfortable with all the responsibility, some do hire out this job to a childcare provider.

The first activity on Monday’s agenda was a mingle for the learning coaches. They were paired up and given a topic to discuss until a bell rang. Then, they shared their answers with the group.

The first topic: What do you like best about online school? The number one answer was “No bullying!” A few moms who had their kids in the program for religious reasons said, “No bad influences.” Other parents cited the absence of school shooting drills.

Drawbacks that were discussed included a lack of extracurricular activities. These are to be provided by the local school district. The process was then explained better, and those kinks are being worked out.

The rest of the day was filled with fun activities, such as tie-dyeing shirts, sports, kickball, chalk art, cooking up hotdogs, and a photo booth. When asked if it was worth dragging their mom out of the house at 5 a.m. and making her drive three hours with a terrible cold, the Strickland girls said, ”Absolutely, yes!” and then they talked their mother into a side trip to the mall in Des Moines. They are looking forward to next month’s field trip.

To learn more about Iowa Virtual Academy, visit https://iava.k12.com/

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