Have you ever wondered what cyber school is like?
Working as an independent contractor school psychologist for grades K to 12, my primary role is to evaluate students to determine if they are eligible for special education services.
I work with various kinds of schools. I spend much of my time completing evaluations for students in charter schools, cyber (online) schools, public schools, and private schools (secular and non-secular). Charter or district schools run cyber schools.
There are also private cyber schools, however, I have not worked with students in that sector.
During the evaluation process, I observed my students in their learning environment, interviewed them about their school experiences, and talked with school staff and parents about my students’ academic programs.
Below I will share with you what I learned about what it is like to go to cyber school.
I work in the state of Pennsylvania, so my experiences have been with Pennsylvania Cyber Schools. However, the information below is likely true for many cyber schools across the country.
If you would like to look into cyber schools in your state, you can Contact Us and I will be happy to provide you with a list.
15 Things I Learned About the K-12 Cyber School Experience
1. Attending cyber school from home is different from being a homeschooled student.
In a cyber school (run by a district or charter school), everything is free and taken care of for you, just like in a traditional public school.
Once the student enrolls, the cyber school assigns them their teachers, who post the assignments online.
They will submit completed assignments online through the school website.
2. Cyber schools have an office for students to meet with their teachers online.
Students can video chat, voice chat, or type with their teachers.
If a student needs assistance, they can go to the office to speak with their teacher. Some teachers make themselves available at particular times during the day to chat or meet in the virtual office.
3. Students are asked to attend live classes.
This may include watching their teacher on camera or listening to them on audio.
Teachers encourage students to listen and interact during the lesson, either verbally or through a chat box.
If they miss the class they can watch or listen to a recorded version; however, some schools require students to attend a certain number of live classes. The school may factor students’ attendance into their overall grade.
Ask the cyber school about their attendance policy. You may want to find out if live classes are an option vs. a requirement.
Some schools will accept students completing the assignments without attending classes. This is called an asynchronous track.
When the school requires attendance in live classes, in addition to independent assignments, it is called a synchronous track.
4. Teachers sometimes ask students to work in groups to complete assignments.
For group work, students are able to communicate with each other through video, audio, or text chat depending on the school and type of assignment.
5. Teachers give independent assignments to complete outside of the live classes.
Examples may include reading and answering questions, solving math problems, labeling a map, typing an essay, taking a spelling test, sharing an opinion on a topic, etc. The cyber school tailors activities to the student’s grade level.
Teachers can make adjustments to independent assignments if the student has a disability that impacts their education. See more about this below.
6. Students classified with an educational disability, receive services directly through the cyber school.
A student with an educational disability in need of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) has a learning coach or case manager that is a certified special education teacher.
This teacher may review concepts in a virtual resource room with the student. The student may communicate with the teacher by video, audio, or text chat depending on their preference.
The special education teacher can also check in on the student regularly, to assist with any problems they may be having.
The teacher can help the student create a schedule and stay organized. They are also there to ensure the student receives the accommodations/modifications in their IEP.
Cyber schools also offer therapies such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, and counseling to students in need, just like a traditional school.
Therapists can provide services virtually if the family agrees. Some therapists meet the student at their home if they live close to the student, or if the family specifically requests an in-home therapist.
You May Also Like: How Do You Know if Your Child Needs an IEP?
5. Cyber Schools Provide Online and Off-Line Options for Meetings.
Cyber schools hold parent-teacher conferences & IEP meetings via phone conference, video conference, or in-person meeting at the main office or main building of the cyber school.
Although students go to school online, many cyber schools have an actual building where the school-staff go to work each day, just like a traditional school (this may be a little different since COVID-19).
6. Cyber schools provide downtime during the school day for students to chat with each other.
Students have the option of free online chat with each other, which is supervised by school staff.
This allows for social connections online throughout the school day. This can be helpful for students who struggle to make peer connections in person.
7. Cyber schools hold events for students to meet and make social connections.
Students can go with their classmates on field trips and attend prom. You can also check if they can play on the sports team of your local school district.
8. Cyber schools often utilize a point-system rather than grade-system.
Each assignment is worth a certain number of points and you are expected to earn a total number of points or a percentage of points each trimester or quarter to pass.
If you get behind one week, you can catch up by submitting more assignments and earning more points the next week. This allows for greater flexibility than traditional schooling.
9. Cyber schools have students come to a central location, such as the main building, to take standardized state tests.
Just like in traditional school, state assessments are proctored by members of the cyber school staff and state guidelines are adhered to.
10. Each student is provided with their own laptop from the school.’
The parents are required to provide WIFI. In some instances, the school will help with the WIFI bill.
I have not seen too many downsides to the cyber school experience, but have noticed a few.
11. Students are sometimes confused about how to complete or participate in assignments.
Students can often get clarification quickly, but sometimes they get stuck and have to wait until a teacher is available to help them; of course, this can happen in any setting.
However, since they cannot see the teacher, and the teacher cannot always respond right away, I have seen frustration when kids do not know how long they have to wait to get help.
12. Students have limited opportunities to socialize and work with their cyber peers in person.
However, students can enroll in classes in their community (eg., dance, martial arts, ice skating, sports, etc.) to have more social opportunities.
13. Sometimes help from parents gives the school an inaccurate view of the child’s performance.
Some parents help their children with the work, because the child struggles to understand the concept or get the assignment done.
This may make it look like the student is meeting grade-level standards, even though they are not doing the work on their own.
14. Unless your child can stay home alone and be independent in their school work, they are going to need a parent to monitor them throughout the day.
Cyber school can also be a lot on a parent when the child is not motivated to complete the work, and the parent and child are having arguments about school work during the school day.
In traditional school, although parents are expected to encourage and support their children, the parent is not responsible for getting their child to complete their work throughout the school day.
If your child is resistant to completing work, it is important to communicate with the school and develop a plan so that they can help you support your child.
15. Cyber-charter schools sometimes have limited resources.
Cyber-charter schools don’t always have the funds that school districts have, so they do not always have as many resources (teachers, materials, etc.).
It is important to ask questions about their resources, what they offer, etc.
For instance, how many students are in each class, what is the best way to reach out for help, will your child get small group direct instruction if it is recommended in the IEP, etc.?
If you would like to learn a bit more, here is a short video about cyber school.
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