As Distance Learning Becomes The New Normal, Families Explore Their Options
The current academic climate is causing many parents to reconsider where and how their children will be educated during the upcoming school year.
To say that the conclusion of the last school year was a bit different is an understatement. While the vast majority of parents and educational leaders prefer students learn in a traditional classroom setting, the rising COVID-19 statistics in South Florida means it will take more time for the “old normal” to return. In the meantime, parents whose children attend public schools are looking at a “new normal.”
Most of these parents will likely accept what is being offered by their home schools, at least in the short term, but some have been exploring their options. Among those options are private schools, private tutors and other options, like Florida Virtual School.
Many private schools in the area, as well as Catholic schools led by the Diocese of Palm Beach, are beginning the school year this month with students on campus, wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
While today’s public school teachers are more than qualified to instruct students sitting in their classrooms, are they ready, prepared and willing to start this new school year like they finished the previous one — working from a remote location, providing online teaching?
Most parents appreciated the work put in by teachers at the end of the last school year, but many also questioned if the educational experience provided was as effective as it needs to be. For his part, Palm Beach County School Superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy has promised a more robust online learning experience this fall.
For those public school parents who are not comfortable with the new normal, there’s an alternative, which is a tried, tested, respected, established and proven online option — Florida Virtual School (FLVS), a 180-day calendar of online public schooling, which provides flexibility of learning for students in all grades.
It’s worth noting that when registering with FLVS full time, it becomes the student’s primary school of record. Individual FLVS classes, however, can be taken through the child’s home school. There is also a similar online portal provided by the School District of Palm Beach County, known as Palm Beach Virtual School.
FLVS has been around for more than 20 years, starting in 1997. The price is right, too. Since it is a public school open to all Florida residents, there is no charge to enroll in FLVS.
“We are considered part of Florida’s public school system,” said Tania Clow, communications manager for FLVS.
At Florida Virtual School (www.flvs.net), students are getting the full academic experience. In the virtual classroom, nearly 200 courses are taught, ranging from algebra and biology to AP history and Spanish. Florida Virtual School teaches a wide range of students — from kindergarten to high school. It has long been popular with students who do not thrive in traditional public school settings.
There’s more to FLVS than what is taught online. Outside the virtual classroom, students also have access to more than 55 online student clubs and activities.
Additionally, one of its benefits is that students can choose to learn on their own schedules. That flexibility is important in a household where multiple family members may be on-the-go, such as high-level athletes and others who spend much of the year elsewhere.
With Florida Virtual School, the system still provides one-on-one personal instruction from certified teachers. Another plus is that students can work ahead, stay on target with their peers in the traditional school system or get back on track through the FLVS Flex program, if they fall behind in their studies for one reason or another.
Clearly, the public schools, private schools and virtual schools are competing for the same students, especially now, since so many students are being taught online this fall, and possibly into 2021.
The competition for students in Florida is significant. According to the FLVS web site, 215,505 students were taught by Florida Virtual School in the 2018-19 school year. Not surprisingly, the registration numbers have risen in recent months.
“Comparing year over year, Florida Virtual School has seen a 71 percent increase in FLVS Flex applications since July 1, and a 66 percent increase in applications for FLVS Full Time since registration opened in March,” Clow said. “There has also been an increase in inquiries from parents with younger children, researching online options for children in grades kindergarten to grade five. We encourage all parents to visit www.flvs.net for more information on our comprehensive curriculum and supportive teachers.”
While enrollment for FLVS Full Time for the upcoming school year closed July 31, enrollment for FLVS Flex is open all year round.
With FLVS Flex, students in kindergarten through 12th grade can take one course or multiple courses to supplement their education.
One of the strongest qualities of an FLVS teacher is the specialized training to communicate and interact with students, despite being in distant locations.
“Communication is very important and is a focus of the extensive training all FLVS teachers receive. We believe that supportive and effective communication should be evident throughout a student’s experience, especially in a virtual environment,” explained Jason Schultz, senior director of instruction for Florida Virtual School. “It is important that we know each child and their unique learning styles in order to support them in a meaningful way.”
While some students can thrive moving through the course more independently, others need a more individualized approach, working one-on-one with their teacher, he added.
“Some students may learn best in a group live lesson, while others benefit from a more personalized approach,” Schultz said. “Having a positive working relationship with our students and families, knowing what works for them individually, and personalizing their educational experience with us is so important in creating a successful online learning environment.”
The FLVS system has been designed to enable students to easily ask their teachers follow-up questions.
“FLVS offers live lessons within the courses, teaching the material in real time using a video conference platform. Students can engage and ask questions during the live lessons,” Schultz said. “Students can also reach out to teachers at any point when they are in need of assistance, additional resources, or need to talk with their teacher. FLVS teachers return all student e-mails, phone calls and text messages within 24 hours.”
As of mid-July, the School District of Palm Beach County was still finalizing its plans for the new academic year.
According to Fennoy, a panel of health experts has suggested that Palm Beach County public schools remain closed to on-campus learning until the rate of new COVID-19 cases shows a significant decline. Fennoy supports the school year beginning with distance learning for all students, allowing for a phased return to brick-and-mortar, in-person instruction when county health conditions permit.
To support its decision, the school district will be distributing more than 82,000 laptop computers to students who need one and is also working to make WiFi more readily available to students living in homes without Internet access. Once finalized, the school district’s plan will need to be approved by the Florida Department of Education, which has a policy preference that public school districts open the brick-and-mortar schools for students five days a week.
Fennoy’s plan sends students back to the classroom based on the state’s re-opening phases. Phase 1 is all online, since Palm Beach County, like Broward and Miami-Dade, remains in a Phase 1 re-opening. Students will begin returning to campus, divided up by grade level, once Palm Beach County moves into Phase 2.
In nearby counties, there’s a mix of on-campus learning and virtual instruction. For example, in Martin County, students return to school on Aug. 10 in person, wearing masks. However, families are also being given an online option.