How to Succeed When Starting Late in Online Private School
When changing schools, most students experience challenges: new routines and unfamiliar courses, teachers, and classmates. Throw in the stress of a late start, plus the differences of the online classroom, and you’ll find a learning curve for the whole family. While a transition like this may take some time, a high-quality online school will offer support along the way. And families who stick with it report that the benefits are well worth the effort.
Give Yourself a Break
Jenn Karns, who resides in Ellicottville, New York, and has students enrolled at International Connections Academy (iNaCA) online private school, believes that patience and a growth mind-set are the most important tools you will need to succeed. Her students, now in grades 7, 9, and 10, began halfway through the 2014–2015 school year. “No matter when you start, you just need to give yourself time to make mistakes. It takes trial, error, and repetition to learn what you are doing. Our family made lots of mistakes, but there was nothing that a teacher or counselor couldn’t help me fix if I couldn’t figure it out myself,” she says.
Jenn encourages families to recognize that the beginning will feel “like a whirlwind,” so it’s important to take advantage of any tools the school provides. At iNaCA, her favorites include a helpful orientation video and a printable “cheat sheet” that identifies important menus and icons for Connexus®, the online education management system used at iNaCA.
“For the first couple of weeks, be patient with yourself as the Learning Coach, be patient with your students, and be patient learning the computer system. Just be patient all around!” she says.
Making the Right Call
Jenn urges parents to communicate with the teacher or teachers up front. Call or make an appointment to talk about your situation, and develop a plan together for catching up on missed work. “The teacher may determine that some lessons may be skipped because the student has already learned the material. Dropping one or two lessons can make a big difference when you are trying to catch up, so it is worth asking. In our experience, teachers are genuinely willing to help and want their students to succeed,” she says.
Jillian Marquart, now a sophomore at iNaCA, agrees. She started very late as a freshman but caught up and maintained an excellent GPA with her schedule of honors courses. “You have to really stay connected with your teachers and let them know where you are with your work. My teachers helped by telling me what to focus on. They want you to really learn instead of memorizing.”
Commit to the Time
Jillian had convinced her mother to let her switch schools because she was tired of all the wasted time and “busywork” during her classes at her traditional school in New Jersey. She set goals to succeed and used the scheduling flexibility that iNaCA offers to her advantage, particularly during the catch-up period.
“I would decide to do a certain number of lessons in a day and do them before bed no matter what. I found it more efficient to do one subject and keep doing that subject all day while I was in the right mind-set,” she explains. “I also dedicated one day on the weekend to catching up. The time involved wasn’t that different from going to school during the day and then doing homework at night.”
Now that she’s on track with her lessons, Jillian can use her scheduling flexibility to learn when she’s at her best. She starts later and works on some courses at night, when she is more focused and less distracted. And best of all, “when school is done, it’s done—no homework!”
Jillian’s mom and Learning Coach, Maureen, agrees that making the switch to iNaCA was a good decision for her daughter. “She worked very hard for the rest of that school year, but it was doable. She has better connections with her teachers and one-on-one time with them. Now she can hang out with friends and has the ability to enjoy family time before she goes to college.”
Tips for Success
When her family was getting started, Jenn Karns found that organization was key both for adjusting to online school and staying on track to finish missed lessons.
- Set up a comfortable, well-stocked home classroom or desk area for students.
- Make sure your computer or laptop, Internet connection, and webcam equipment is updated and compatible with the school’s system.
- Get familiar with the school’s computer system, using any “cheat sheets,” orientations, or other onboarding resources the school offers.
- Obtain your student’s LiveLesson® session schedule and the teacher’s office hours and phone number.
- Reach out to the teacher and connect with other school families for support; iNaCA hosts message boards where families can connect.
- Read the syllabus for each course and figure out each teacher’s policies and expectations.
- Set up a calendar with deadlines, assignments, testing, and other important dates; iNaCA’s Connexus system includes a handy scheduler to help distribute lessons.
- Learn how to access the worksheets, discussions, and portfolio information within a lesson to make sure you can print and get the right instructions.
- Set a Learning Coach routine for yourself that includes checking for messages from the school, approving student assignments, and recording attendance regularly.
- Delay extracurricular clubs and activities until students are caught up.
- Participate in our parent-led Facebook group for advice and tips.
Both families agree that it’s important to stick with online school until “things fall into place.” Jenn particularly stresses the importance of the school community in supporting newcomers—that’s why she’s now an active participant on the parent message boards.
“[Some people] will go out of their way to make sure other Learning Coaches have everything they need to be successful. For me personally, the virtual school experience has been so good that I just want to make sure other people know what is possible,” she says. “Even some of those late-entered families come back to the message boards later and share how glad they were that they stuck with it because it was worth it.”
What advice can you share with families who are just starting virtual school—or trying to catch up? Tell us your best tips in the comments.