Connections Academy Families Support School Choice
Last week, tens of thousands of yellow-scarved students, parents, and teachers converged on schools, state houses, and city halls across the country to support National School Choice Week (NSCW). Celebrated every January, National School Choice Week events raise awareness about the benefits of having a range of education options open to U.S. students.
Among the schooling options represented during NSCW are online public schools like Connections Academy, online private schools such as International Connections Academy, and blended schools such as Nexus Academy, which combine online and in-person learning. Other educational choices include traditional public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, private schools, and homeschooling. In the process, NSCW events draw attention to the importance of making those choices available to more students.
Many Connections Academy families and school leaders raised their voices for school choice, helping to make this year’s NCSW the single largest series of education-related events in U.S. history. Here’s a sampling of what this vibrant school community had to say about the importance of making school choice available to all students—regardless of where they live.
Different Roads to Student Success
Speaking before her state’s Senate Education Committee on School Choice, South Carolina Connections Academy (SCCA) Executive Amanda Ebel got straight to the point.
“Some students need different avenues to be successful. [At SCCA], our families need an alternative to the traditional school for a variety of reasons. … A student with a medical condition may require intensive, ongoing treatment. A student who is pursuing a music or acting career needs a flexible schedule to do so. A student who has been bullied needs to feel safe again to rebuild confidence. A family who wants to spend more time together while one parent is stationed overseas in the military.
Every family who chooses an online school has a unique story, and thankfully the South Carolina General Assembly has given families an option to choose the school that works best [for them].”
In other states across the country, Connections Academy families shared some of those stories.
From Suspension to Scholarships and Civic Engagement in Iowa
“Over the course of four short years, our family went from wondering how we could keep Blake in school to what college he should attend.”
That’s Iowa Connections Academy (IACA) parent Jane Eilers describing how school choice and an online school transformed her son’s life. As Jane told Iowa’s governor and guests last week, “Blake has Asperger’s syndrome and ADHD, and in eighth grade he was also diagnosed with depression and anxiety.” Disengaged at his traditional public school, Blake faced poor grades, detentions, and suspension.
Something had to be done. After exploring their options, Jane and her husband enrolled Blake at IACA in 2012. Since then, Jane said Blake has gained the confidence and support he needs to excel in school and beyond. He’s been inducted into IACA’s National Honor Society (NHS) chapter, led a successful donation drive for the Ronald McDonald House, earned his black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and run his first 5K race. He’s also received merit scholarship offers from multiple colleges.
But Blake also knows school choice can’t be taken for granted.
When Iowa students’ right to attend public virtual schools was threatened last year, Blake “set out to maintain his own right, his current classmates’ rights, and the right for future students to have access to public virtual school as an educational option in Iowa.” To illustrate how school choice can change students’ lives, he tirelessly shared his story in meetings with state representatives, senators, and Governor Branstad at the state capital and with journalists invited to his home.
On July 2, 2015, the governor signed into law a bill extending the public online school option in Iowa.
As Blake’s mom told Iowa’s political leaders, “Having the ability to switch to public virtual school certainly opened up fields of opportunities for my son. It is essential [that] every student in Iowa continues to have options to find the best educational fit to provide all youth with fields of opportunity to build a productive, happy, and rewarding future.”
Student Creates Her Own Opportunities in Texas
Texas Connections Academy senior Athena Owirodu’s decision to attend an online school was unexpected. Speaking at a rally at the Texas State Capitol, Athena said, “My family moved often because of my mom’s job as a nurse, so I didn’t have the chance to attend the magnet school I had set my eyes on.”
Though initially disappointed, Athena said she soon found that online school offered the same opportunities as her dream magnet school—to earn college credit in AP classes, to collaborate with peers via the online classroom, and to lead as president of the school’s National Honor Society chapter. Texas Connections Academy even encouraged her to create her own opportunities, such as founding a new club at her school.
“So, just like brick-and-mortar schools are the right fit for some students, online school is the right fit for students like me,” Athena said. “In this generation, we as students have the chance to flourish in life as long as we have different and diverse avenues to do so.”
And that, according to the thousands who joined in the more than 16,000 National School Choice Week events this year, is what school choice is really all about.
How has your family’s school choice benefitted your students? Share your stories in the comments!