The 2012 - 2013 school year found us in the same position with Marissa's school. I would not let her attend the school in the district we were located, we couldn't afford private school, and we didn't know how we would get her to and from if we tried to transfer her to another brick and mortar public school.
Besides, even though we didn't get what we needed from Calvert Academy curriculum for her 5th grade year, we are still enthusiastic about Epic Charter Schools.
We had an option to use WiloStar 3D. The "school" is a virtual environment where Marissa could see the avatars of her teacher and her classmates while listening to the audio through her headsets. Three times a week she logs into her "conference" for discussion based on the assignments. Just like a traditional classroom, if the student hasn't done the work, their participation in the conference demonstrates the lack of progress.
We had to buy a very good laptop that could handle graphics acceleration, so if you're considering it realize that you'll probably spend around $1,000 (we bought ours through Dell's website). Considering our alternatives it seemed like a bargain.
The student logs into the virtual school environment to access lessons. The curriculum is literature based (which I loved when we were homeschooling), and the assignments for the core courses are integrated (except for math). The math program is sent separately on CDs. Your student takes an assessment over the summer to determine the math level needed.
You'll also handle your student's physical education needs or hire someone to do it (classes or programs at the Y, etc.).
Last summer while watching the Olympics, Marissa developed a passion for swimming. Between her lessons at the YMCA then joining the Chesapeake Swim Club, she easily met her semester requirements for P.E.
We're up for another year, and she's looking forward to her seventh grade year.
What we love:
- The progress is monitored by a teacher who grades the lessons and provides feedback. Marissa's sixth grade teacher was very good, and she didn't hesitate to email me if she felt like there was a problem.
- There are other students to chat with and interact with. Your student isn't alone in their assignments. They can visit with another student in their class, but only the students in their class. The environment does a great job with security and you can be assured that no one else has access to your child through the internet inside the program.
- The integrated curriculum requires your student to read great books. I am absolutely passionate about this type of learning.
What we don't love
- The student still does quite a bit of work independently, which was the real problem for us with Calvert. I thought I was better prepared to monitor her pace, but we still had problems. It's not really a problem of the school or the program. It's a parenting issue that's not any different than if she attended a brick and mortar school. I have to log in and look at her lessons frequently to make sure she stays on pace, especially since she hasn't demonstrated great organizational skills. I've scheduled reminders on my daily calendar to log in and check her progress. This is something that you cannot do in traditional public school, but I'm not one for micromanagement. I think it produces lazy students and lazy employees. (That's a rant I'll save for another day.)
- The ability to lose your work exists. Since we're I.T. folks by trade, we completely understand that a web based environment means that sometimes your submissions may not upload. I didn't monitor the process closely enough and Marissa failed to save the backup copies of her work. Only later did she realize that the assignments were missing and had to do the work over. This year she will be using Google Drive and sharing her documents with me so that I can monitor the work more closely.
- The student is on the computer A LOT. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but they will be on the Internet. You'll want to make sure that they aren't spending time where you don't want them to be. This blog post has some pretty basic tips about monitoring your child. But, be aware that today's smart phones pose some of the same risks so you'll want to at least consider some of good monitoring recommendations for those devices as well.
You may also want to consider enrolling your child in summer schooling activities. This summer we signed up for several weeks with Oklahoma City Community College's College for Kids. It's kept her busy and off of the computer for awhile.
We're eager to start 7th grade now that we armed with our "lessons learned" from last year.
If you want to find out more about WiloStar 3D visit their website. If you live in Oklahoma, you'll want to enroll through Epic Charter Schools. We're very excited about these type of opportunities for our children in Oklahoma. We hope our legislators continue to support "out of the box" thinking when it comes to lifelong learning and improving the quality of education.