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New year, new school? Online learning can ease transitions

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(BPT) - A new trend in American public education finds many K-12 students transferring schools mid-year - even when the family doesn’t move. Many families are looking to give their child a fresh start for a variety of reasons, both academic and social.

A 2012 Parent Satisfaction Survey conducted by virtual education provider Connections Academy revealed that the top reasons cited by parents for enrolling students in its full-time online public schools were that they wanted: a change in the learning environment from their current school situation, a more flexible schedule and a more controlled educational setting. Fifty-one percent of parents felt, “I have a child who doesn’t learn well in a traditional school setting,” and a sobering 16 percent reported that their child was bullied in his or her previous school and cited this issue as a “significant reason” for enrollment.

Educators say many of these families are turning to full-time online schools. The reason is two-fold. First, more families than ever are embracing virtual education: Roughly 275,000 American K-12 students now get their complete educations online, according to the report, Keeping Pace with K-12 Online & Blended Learning. And second, the very format of virtual school eases the adjustment period and physical transitions for both student and family. At these schools, learning takes place at home, with a parent or “Learning Coach” on site. Instruction is directed by certified teachers, with whom students and parents communicate frequently by phone, email and real-time online lessons.

“Blended” schools that meld face-to-face and online learning are also growing in number - and in popularity with families, students and educators alike. Educators say blended schools can be a great choice for families switching schools mid-year for whom full-time virtual schools aren’t a good fit. Blended schools like Nexus Academy serve no more than 250 to 300 students and offer a rigorous high school experience in a highly personalized, innovative and flexible school environment. Students learn “on campus” from certified teachers in a traditional classroom setting, as well as online using school-provided mobile technology tools to learn anywhere, any time. Strong teacher support combined with the student’s ability to work at his own pace with online learning makes blended schools an excellent choice for new mid-year students who may need to address academic gaps or other transitions from the prior school.

Connections Academy school counselors and enrollment specialists offer these five tips for families looking to make the switch mid-year:

1. Insist on quality - Many states have full-time online public schools and blended school programs, but not all are created equal. Make certain the school has professional and certified teachers, is an accredited program, and offers a proven curriculum developed by expert educators. Get an insider’s perspective - talk to parents with students currently enrolled in the school and learn their take on the program.

2. Plan ahead - Think about the best time to make the school switch. For high school (and some middle school) students, it’s ideal to finish the quarter or semester and then start a new period in the new school. Of course, sometimes life throws you a curve ball - unexpected job changes or other sudden family matters seldom come with advance warning. In that case, reach out to the guidance and enrollment officials at the virtual or blended school as early as you can to make the school switch as smooth as possible.

3. Get paperwork in order - Parents should start sooner rather than later gathering all the necessary paperwork needed to enroll their child in the new virtual or blended school - transcripts, birth certificates, immunization records, and the like. Check with enrollment officials at the new school to get a list of required documents and enrollment deadlines.

4. Transfer credits - Many schools don’t mail home fall semester or second quarter report cards until well into the spring semester, which may make it tricky to show proof of course completion and get all the student’s credits transferred to the new school. If you are facing this situation, check with the new school’s enrollment officials to find out what other alternative paperwork can be supplied, and then request it from the previous school.

5. Maintain an open dialogue - Your role in ensuring a smooth mid-year transition doesn’t end when your child is enrolled in his new virtual or blended public school. “The key to a smooth transition - to any school, not just a virtual public school - is for parents to maintain an open dialogue with the school,” observes Tisha Rinker, director of school counseling for Connections Academy.

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