Remember when there was a time that preparing your child for the new school year was as easy as learning your ABC’s? It seems like the most crucial decisions then were what color backpack they might want, or would they wear their new tennis shoes on the first day or was that “not cool”? That time seems so long ago for many parents, but it really was not so far in the past
When COVID-19 came knocking on school classroom doors in the spring of 2020, education changed permanently for students, parents and educators alike. Many were thrust chaotically into a virtual teaching system that they weren’t prepared for and couldn’t fathom. Sixyear- olds learning online? Zoom? What is Zoom? How could parents be expected to suddenly become their child’s de facto teacher? These were but a few of the questions that plagued and panicked many.
However, there is good news for parents and there is reason to be hopeful and empowered. Living in Florida, school closures have happened before due to hurricanes, so this is not this state’s (educational system’s) first rodeo when dealing with the need to adapt and be flexible. Also, the reality is that adaptation and flexibility happen to be great strengths of most educators. When in doubt, they improvise and improvise again.
So, what options do parents have? How can they regain control and have faith that their child will continue to learn and stay safe? After all, this “online learning thing” is so new it needs time to get established, right? Wrong. The Florida Virtual School, Florida’s statewide free public online K-12 school was established way back in 1997. That means that Florida is not only a leader in this area but has decades of experience under its belt. Additionally, nearly every district in the state of Florida has a franchise of Florida Virtual School so that students have the opportunity to take those same courses but under the umbrella of their local district. What many families experienced during the spring of 2020 were programs that schools were scrambling to create, not established programs like Florida Virtual School or the franchise programs throughout the state.
Pacing can also be adapted in the online environment so students can accelerate or remediate if necessary, so that they can master the material. That is a powerful factor for many students. Parents need to decide if that environment is right for their student and family. Students can take one class or their whole schedule online, or anywhere in between. Parents have the option to customize their child’s schedule to fit their needs and learning styles.
So, what does a parent do? Where do they start? The first place should be their district website. It’s key for every parent to understand what their child is required to do and accomplish in every grade level. In the lower grades this might relate to standards or testing and in the higher grades, such as high school, this would get more specific in terms of what courses and credits their child would need to graduate. By mastering and knowing this material, parents will have the knowledge they need to help navigate their child’s schedule, semester-by-semester, and year-by-year. Parents must also remember that they are their child’s greatest advocate. Under state law, parents have the choice in whether their child takes courses on-campus or virtually (or a combination of both). By knowing their child, parents can work with counselors to create a strong schedule that will fit their child’s needs and strengths. Once again, it is important to remember that a parent is their child’s greatest advocate and sometimes it is important to make sure that voice is heard. It is also critical to ask questions. Schedule one-on-one time with advisors at any institution you feel would be a good fit for your child and inquire about the programs they offer and what that will mean for your child currently and down the road. Listen carefully to their response to ensure their focus is on the needs of your child first.
Balancing the big decisions and the small ones throughout your child’s education is a daunting task. However, by being keenly informed of the state requirements, staying focused on your child’s needs and being an active participant in your child’s education, you will be able to navigate any challenging times. It will take constant vigilance, but then again, doesn’t everything with children? Finally, even if they decide to learn 100% online, get them the cool backpack if they want it. After all, learning should always be fun.