Do you remember when you started middle school/junior high? Was it exciting? Was it terrifying? Was it equal parts excitement and terror? That was probably the most anxiety any of us have had at the beginning of a school year.
dun. dun. DUN!
The 20/21 school year is full of question marks. We're not talking regular question marks, we're talking Spanish question marks - upside down and at the beginning of things. The massive, gaping hole of unknowns that is this school year has many parents thinking about other options.
What are the alternatives to attending a brick and mortar public school?
If you have never looked into educational alternatives before, you might be surprised and possibly overwhelmed at the choices available to you. My goal with this post is to help you sort your options and narrow them down to manageable decision.
Alternatives to Conventional Public School
1. Private School
This may be a big, fat "duh" but it is worth mentioning because it is the most common alternative to public school. While many private schools will likely follow the same guidelines as their public school district, some may choose to forge their own path. Private schools also tend to have much smaller class sizes so social distancing is more doable which could make it much easier on parents and students. Of course, private schools cost money so that is a major consideration but they are the most similar alternative to public schools.
2. Public Virtual School
Most states offer a free virtual school as a part of their public school system. In many states, this program has been up and running for several years so it's a smooth operation. This is not like the distance learning your district may have implemented at the end of the last school year, which was likely cobbled together from bits and pieces and drove parents and teachers into the crazy house. This is a fully established, functioning school online. All of your school information carries over as this is a branch of the public school system and students with IEP's or those who require services from the district may still have access to them with a virtual school enrollment. PLEASE check with your state virtual program and your local district to get details on the services available through the virtual school. It varies from state to state. Many districts will allow you come one campus for specific activities and services.
Virtual public school can be a good fit for:
families with a work from home/stay at home parent who is available to help the student when needed.
working families with older, more independent students.
families with children or family members who would be at risk while the virus is still a major concern
families with students who may have difficulty dealing with the strict regulations - such as social distancing or wearing a mask.
families who are looking to get their child out of the public school classroom (for whatever reason - not just Covid!) but still need the structure and teaching of the school system.
3. Virtual Private School
Just as there is a public school and a virtual public school, there are private schools and virtual private schools. The attributes between the brick and mortar options and their virtual counterparts are fairly similar too. There are teachers available to you, a structure you can easily 'slot' your student into, and it makes tracking things a breeze. As with a B&M private school, the virtual programs cost money. But their programs are often more flexible scheduling-wise than their public school competitor.
Virtual private schools may be right for:
all of the families listed for #2 :)
families who may want to use this time to fill in some gaps in their child's education through another curriculum
families who want to dip their toes into homeschooling but aren't ready or able to go whole hog.
Never heard of a private virtual school? No worries - I can help you get started in your search.
I have never used a virtual program of any kind in our homeschooling. I do not endorse or recommend any of the following programs. These are programs I have heard of from other homeschooling families or I know them by reputation only. So this is only a starting point for you to do your own research. I have included two that Christian and two that are secular.
This should at least give you a good sampling of what is out there!
Given the name of this website, it should be no surprise that this would be my top choice. But this isn't about me, it's about YOU and YOUR FAMILY. Homeschooling offers many benefits - flexibility in scheduling and curriculum, students can go at their own pace, parents can choose the curriculum and set the schedule. It could be the perfect opportunity to help a struggling child fill in the gaps and get extra practice. It could be a time when an advanced child can dive head first into subjects of their interest that aren't available in school. Of course, homeschooling requires more work from the parents but most veteran homeschooling families will tell you that it is well worth the effort. You will need to familiarize yourself with your state's homeschooling laws. A great place to start is the Home School Legal Defense Association www.hslda.org They have amazing resources to help you navigate any questions about requirements and regulations in your state.
Homeschooling may be the right choice for:
families with a work from home/stay at home parent who can work with the child(ren) throughout the day.
working families with older, independent students who are self motivated.
families with health conditions that preclude attending school during this time but need more than just a virtual option.
families who need flexibility in teaching their child from home at their own schedule
families who may want to use this time to remediate or advance their student according to their needs.
families who are looking to break free of the conventional school paradigm altogether.
You may still have many unanswered questions, like:
¿How do I know what to teach my child? ¿Where do I find books or curriculum?
¿Where can I find free resources to use in homeschooling? ¿How can I work outside of the home and do homeschool/virtual school with my child?
(See what I did there with the upside question marks?)