On two separate occasions, our family did something radically different from any of our friends or family—we enrolled our kids in cyber school.
Our first cyber school experience was brought about by necessity. In her junior year, our older daughter had some medical issues that were affecting her education. She was absent from school for roughly 25 days by the winter break. We needed to do something—fast! After brainstorming and meeting with her school’s guidance counselor we decided to give cyber schooling a try for the remainder of the year. We got through it, but the cyber school experience was less than stellar. With her health stabilized, she returned to traditional school the following year.
After our lackluster first experience with cyber school, we were reluctant to give it another try when, a few years later, our younger daughter asked to transfer to cyber school. For a solid year, she reasoned, bargained and begged until we agreed to even consider it. She worked hard to prove to us that she could responsibly handle the more independent, flexible classes by proactively managing her schedule, applying herself to her studies and keeping up her grades. So we hesitantly moved forward.
The second time around, we had more time to choose a cyber school. The pressure was on to make a good choice so we wouldn’t have another disappointing cyber school experience. I scoured websites for information and answers to our questions, taking notes on the features of the six public cyber schools available. For weeks it seemed that every answer led to more questions. But eventually the avalanche of new information slowed and we were able to begin sorting our preferences. As we compared our requirements to the opportunities at each school, it became clear that certain schools weren’t a good fit for us. For the remaining options, making a decision was easier when we had hard facts to compare.
Part of the differences in the experiences we had with cyber schools was due to the differences in our daughters’ personalities. Even so, we found that our second cyber school choice better suited our family because of its support system, parental expectations and class structure. The work we had put in researching our options paid off with a much better cyber school experience for our younger daughter.
From each of our perspectives, here’s what we thought of some of the aspects of our cyber school experience.
Cyber School’s Flexible Scheduling Made Learning Easier
Mom: Flexible scheduling allowed my girls to complete their coursework when they were at their best. We all have peak times during the day (or night) when we’re more alert and open to learning. Cyber school allowed my kids the flexibility to use their internal clocks to their advantage. It also allowed them to work ahead in lessons so they could ease up on their schoolwork during times that were hectic with other activities.
Older Daughter: Cyber school was appealing to me because of the versatility it gave me to learn at my own pace, during the time of day that worked best for me, from home. Also, I am introverted, so time alone is appealing to me whereas spending six-plus hours a day surrounded by peers is not.
Younger Daughter: I liked learning on my own schedule. It allowed for more personal time and more options for a better work schedule. Because I controlled my schedule, I could get better sleep!
Cyber School’s Flexible Schedule was a Big Adjustment
Mom: Occasionally, flexible scheduling allowed the girls to become lax with keeping up with their assignments. They then learned the hard way how to buckle down and power through a pile of work to meet deadlines.
Older Daughter: Some of the courses didn’t have enough structure, and almost too much free will. This led me to put off doing my work because some assignments didn’t have due dates except for “by the end of the semester.” In that respect, it was a difficult transition because I no longer had teachers constantly harping on due dates.
Younger Daughter: It was easier to slack off (than at my previous school). But if I stayed motivated to learn, my cyber school provided extensive resources. The switch (to cyber school) was difficult, but there was lots of help and the teachers and staff helped to make the transition easier—the key was just communicating with them.
Individual Responsibility Grew at Cyber School
Mom: My girls each learned that they were ultimately responsible for learning their lessons and completing their assignments. If they didn’t understand a lesson they had to figure out how they were going to improve. Sometimes they watched a particular lesson more than once, re-read the text or logged into a live class to ask questions. Other times they chatted online with teachers during their office hours. Occasionally they would ask me for help—and the online tools made it easy for me to bring myself up to speed with their lessons. The strategies they learned to help themselves were good lessons in problem solving and personal responsibility.
Older Daughter: I liked feeling independent. Cyber school taught me the hard work you need to do to hold yourself accountable.
Younger Daughter: I liked that I felt supported by the staff. I never felt alone while learning the curriculum and the ways in which cyber school worked—but if I didn’t need the help it wasn’t pushed on me. I didn’t feel the pressure of people breathing down my neck.
Peer Distraction was Minimized at Cyber School
Mom: So many days my kids came home from (their previous) school caught up in the after-effects of negative experiences. They were often upset about drama that was going on at school, whether or not it involved them personally. Additionally, many times they came home frustrated with distractions caused by behavioral problems in their classrooms. It really showed in the pace of the courses. And if they needed help or clarification, talking with their teachers was difficult because of time constraints and scheduling issues.
Older Daughter: It was refreshing to be able to step away from all the day-to-day drama that went on at my traditional school.
Younger Daughter: I could spend less time worrying about anything other than learning my courses. I felt that a classroom was a difficult environment to focus in because of the other students who, in my case, goofed around all during class and made learning impossible. At cyber school, I could control the environment and maintain the ideal learning vibe.
Cyber School Offered More Class Choices
Mom: Both cyber schools that we were involved with offered a wide range of classes. And students could take classes of varying levels—honors English and basic math, for example. They didn’t have to take ALL subjects at the same level. As for electives, there were more classes my daughters wanted to take than they could schedule. They considered Marine Biology, History of Rock and Roll, Business Communications, Graphic Novel Seminar, Elements of Drama and Theater, American Heritage, Personal Finance, Business Marketing and Film Appreciation. Because they were more interested and invested in what they were learning, my girls started to ENJOY their education!
Older Daughter: The classes my cyber school offered were more expansive than at my traditional school. They had more classes that were practical and interesting.
Younger Daughter: My cyber school courses were definitely more interesting and appealing to me (than at my former school).
Social Interaction required more effort
Mom: While enrolled in cyber school, the girls had to work harder to “get out there” and stay social. School field trips and social functions weren’t always convenient for us to attend—they usually involved two hours of travel. Because they didn’t have daily, lunch-time interaction with their friends, (previously their main social-planning time), we had to remember to encourage the girls to reach out to their friends to plan get-togethers. When our younger daughter attended cyber school, I was fortunate to locate a theater group specifically for homeschoolers. It was another activity to manage, but gave her another opportunity for social interaction.
Older Daughter: Socially, I definitely went through changes and losses of friends for the sheer fact that some of them didn’t understand why I would switch to cyber school. Others spread rumors that I “dropped out.” It was through these times that I realized which friends really mattered.
Younger Daughter: I didn’t like not seeing my old friends as often, customary with any school change. I would go to cyber school again but I’d be more active with school events they held. I liked being able to make friends in traditional school, and I still have those friends. But I feel like I could have had more social experiences while I went to cyber school.
Final Thoughts About Your Cyber School Experience
Mom: There were both pros and cons of our cyber education experiences. But overall, the pros outweighed the cons and if I had the chance to do it again I definitely would. In fact, I’d start my kids off in cyber school from the start!
Older Daughter: I think the quality of education that can be obtained through cyber school is just as good, if not better, than that of a traditional “brick and mortar” school. Yes, I would do it again, but at a different cyber school from the one I attended.
Younger Daughter: At cyber school there are many opportunities to learn, such as taking dual enrollment classes with colleges like I did. And I was able to complete lessons in less time than it took at my traditional school. I felt like I was learning more. Yes, I’d do it again!
Trying to sort out cyber school options? Read How to Choose a Cyber School for a comprehensive list of what to look for and questions to ask.