When people think of online learning, they typically imagine an adult taking online courses for continuing education credits or to earn an advanced degree. However, as our society evolves and learning needs change, students from elementary age through high school are also in need of virtual education solutions.
Florida Virtual School (FLVS), now beginning its 21st year, allows students 24/7 access to their coursework, which meets Florida State Standards, from anywhere around the globe. FLVS employs only certified and dedicated teachers.
Elementary, middle, and high school students’ need for virtual learning options stem from a variety of reasons. From amateur athletes and children of military officers, to homeschooled students and those with emotional or physical special needs, FLVS offers individualized learning options.
While middle and high school students have taken FLVS courses for many years, either as homeschool students or for course or credit recovery, the growth of virtual learning for elementary-aged students has become more popular nationwide. FLVS has two options for elementary students — a more traditional, full-time elementary school that has a fixed schedule from August through May, and a flexible option with two types of enrollment. The first type has two enrollment segments (April through September or October through January) and the newest FLVS Flex program, beginning this August, will have rolling year-round enrollment.
Flex students can take online elementary courses while attending a public, private, or charter school with approval from their school of record, or as a homeschool student registered with his/her local school district.
“All of our materials are available online and we offer extensive technical support for students and parents,” said DeAnne Watson, FLVS district manager for several Florida districts, including Alachua County. Watson has also taught in the FLVS program. “The great thing about FLVS is how truly interactive and personalized it is for each student and the parents. The students and teachers have interaction through their live lessons, and students also get to know each other. Teachers call to check in and have an open-door policy with regards to communications. Parents can reach out to teachers the same way that they could at a brick-and-mortar school.”
The new rolling enrollment FLVS Flex program allows elementary students to have an interactive, self-guided learning plan and they may register for individual courses. Students follow a customized pace chart created with the course teacher and they can start and finish anytime during the year. Students can participate in optional teacher-directed instruction and attend class time for selected subject area(s).
One of the most common misconceptions about online instruction is losing the personalized component, shared Anthony Calello, an FLVS teacher who had previously taught for five years at a traditional public school. He was afraid it would be difficult to make connections with students.. Calello said he was proven wrong rather quickly.
“It has not been difficult at all to make that one-on-one relationship with my students. Actually, it’s easier to give my students their individualized feedback and attention,” Calello said. “I allow both students and parents the options of calling me, even after hours, if they have any questions or concerns. I give them the assurance that they can grow and learn from mistakes.”
Calello makes sure he checks in with students regularly and takes notes on important events and milestones that may be occurring in their lives. For example, if a child has an important sporting event or dance recital, he makes sure to ask them how their experience was, further personalizing the relationship.
“I wrongly assumed that perhaps the academic level of the type of student I would have may be more limited,” Calello said. “I couldn’t have been more wrong. My students are some of the most gifted, exceptional, and articulate students I have ever taught. The beauty of this program is that each student can tailor his/her individualized learning style and schedule. Our students keep in touch with each other and become friends. I have also had the privilege of teaching students traveling the country competing on Olympic level sports and teams. They get to do what they love and still learn.”
One concern parents typically have with enrolling their child(ren) in a virtual school is the fear of losing socialization and extracurricular activities. FLVS works very hard to provide activities outside the classroom and offers resources like clubs and field trips.
“We offer clubs and various activities for our students to participate in throughout the year,” Watson said. “There are also some great field trips that are available which gives students and their parents an opportunity to meet classmates and teachers in person.”
For Marianne Burns, mother to two FLVS students (a son in middle school and a daughter in the elementary program), choosing FLVS made sense after doing her research and assessing what was best for her children.
“I wrongly assumed that perhaps the academic level of the type of student I would have may be more limited. I couldn’t have been more wrong. My students are some of the most gifted, exceptional, and articulate students I have ever taught.”
—Anthony Calello, FLVS teacher
“My daughter had some limitations in math, and this type [FLVS] of flexible learning really worked for her,” Burns said. “She was enrolled in the Flex program with class times on Tuesday and Thursday. Her teacher was amazing. Not only did he do so much to help my daughter learn the material, he also assisted me with learning the technology of how to post her assignments and projects. Her teacher provided personalized and hands-on instruction, and he typically responded to questions from my daughter or me within 30 minutes to an hour.”
Burns’ daughter Laurianne agreed with her mother enthusiastically.
“I love the FLVS program!” Laurianne said. “It was so much more hands-on than at my public school. I got to know my teachers and the projects we got to do were fun. My favorite project was for science where we had to make the anatomy of the human body using fabric on a poster board.”
When asked what advice she would give other elementary students considering FLVS, Laurianne said, “Go for it! It’s so much fun and it’s not as stressful.”