Have you ever wondered what cyber school is like? Working as an independent contractor school psychologist for grades K to 12, I work with a variety of types of schools, including charter schools, cyber schools (which may be run by a charter or district school), public schools, and private schools (secular and non-secular). My primary role is to evaluate students to determine if they are eligible for special education services.
Prior to this year, I was virtually unaware of what a cyber school experience is like; however, after completing evaluations with several cyber school students, I feel like I have developed a pretty good understanding of how it works. During the evaluation process, I observe my students in their learning environment, interview them about their school experience, and talk with school staff and parents about the student’s current academic program. Through this process I have developed quite a bit of knowledge about the cyber school process and want to share some facts with you.
Somethings to keep in mind: I am not a cyber school expert and have a lot to learn, but these facts have definitely shed some light on the whole experience and can inform others who may be interested to learn how it all works. Also, I work in the state of Pennsylvania, so my experiences have only been with Pennsylvania Cyber Schools. However, the facts below are likely true for many cyber school across the country. If you would like to look into cyber schools in your state, you can Contact Us and I will be happy to provide you with a list.
10 Facts About the Cyber School Experience
1. Attending cyber school is different from being home-schooled. With homeschooling you buy the curriculum and implement it yourself, often from a home-school curriculum website. You are responsible for reporting progress to the state. In a Cyber School (run by a district or charter school), everything is free and taken care of for you, just like in a traditional public school. Once enrolled, the student will be assigned teachers for his/her academic subjects and all of his/her assignments will be posted online. He/She will submit completed assignments online through the school website.
2. Cyber schools have an office for students to meet with their teachers online. They can video chat, voice chat, or type. If a student needs assistance, they can go to the office to speak with their teacher. There may be certain designated times that the office is open or their teachers are available to chat.
3. Students are asked to attend live classes (watching their teacher on video or listening to them on audio). They are encouraged to listen and interact during the lesson. Students are also asked to work in groups and complete independent assignments. For group work, students are able to communicate through video, audio, or text chat depending on the school and type of assignment.
4. Students who have been classified with a disability and who have or may need an Individualized Education Program (IEP) are serviced directly through the school. A student with an IEP has a learning coach or case manager that is a certified special education teacher. This person can assist with reviewing concepts in a live resource room (again video chat, audio chat, or text chat can be used). They can also check in on the student regularly to assist with any problems they may be having, and help the student create a schedule and stay organized. The learning coach/case manager is also in charge of making sure the accommodations/modifications in the IEP are being carried out. Cyber schools also offer therapies such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, and counseling to students in need, just like a traditional school. Therapy can be provided virtually online if agreed upon by the therapist, family, and school; however, some services are delivered in person if the provider lives close to the student or if the family specifically requests an in home therapist.
5. Parent Teacher Conferences and IEP Meetings can be held via a phone conference, video conference, or in an in person meeting at the main office/main building of the cyber school. Although students go to school online, many cyber schools have an actual building where the school staff go to work each day, just like a traditional school.
6. Cyber schools provide down time during the school day for students to have free online chat with each other, which is supervised by school staff. This allows for social connections online throughout the school day. This can be helpful for students who struggle to make personal connections in person.
7. Cyber schools have field trips, proms, and other opportunities for students make social connections.
8. Cyber schools utilize a point rather than grade system. Each assignment is worth a certain number of points and you are expected to earn a total number of points each quarter to pass. If you get behind one week, you can catch up by submitting more assignments and earning more points the next week. This allows for greater flexibility than traditional school.
9. Cyber schools have students come to a central location, such as the main building, to take standardized state tests. Just like in traditional school, state assessments are proctored by members of the cyber school staff and state guidelines are adhered to.
10. Each student is provided with their own laptop from the school; however, the parents are required to provide WIFI.
I have not seen too many down sides to the cyber school experience, but have noticed a few.
1. Students are sometimes confused about how to complete or participate in assignment. Usually they can get clarification quickly, but sometimes they get stuck and have to wait until a teacher in available to help them; of course, this can happen in any setting. However, since they cannot see the teacher, and the teacher cannot always respond right away, I have seen frustration when kids do not know how long they have to wait to get help.
2. Students have limited opportunities to socialize and work with their cyber peers in person.
3. Parents sometimes provide so much help that in some cases, the school does not have an accurate idea of the child’s true performance.
4. Unless your child can stay home alone and be independent in their school work, they are going to need a parent monitoring them throughout the day. It can also be a lot on a parent when the child is not motivated to complete the work and the parent and child are having arguments about school work during the school day. In traditional school, although parents are expected to encourage and support their children, the parent is not responsible for getting their child to complete their work throughout the school day. If your child is resistant to completing work, it is important to communicate with the school and develop a plan so that they can help you support your child.
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5. Cyber-Charter Schools sometimes don’t have the funds a district school has, so they may not always have as many resources (teachers, materials, etc.). However, in other cases a Charter-Cyber School may have more funds and resources than a district school. It is important to ask questions about their resources, what they offer, etc.
If you would like to learn a bit more, here is a video about a popular PA Cyber School. I am not advertising for this school, just sharing a video to provide you with a more in depth understanding of how Cyber School works.
Anything you would like to add about cyber school, please comment below. If you found this helpful please share it.
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Rachel Wise is a certified school psychologist and licensed behavior specialist with a Master’s Degree in Education. She is also the head author and CEO at educationandbehavior.com, a site for parents, educators, and counselors to find effective, research-based strategies that work for children. Rachel has been working with individuals with academic and behavioral needs for over 20 years and has a passion for making a positive difference in the lives of children and the adults who support them.