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Online Public School as an Alternative to Homeschool

A year and a half ago, our family decided to leave our local physical public school system due to safety concerns.  Our daughter was surrounded by bad behavior from defiant and disrespectful students and while none of it was directed specifically at her, it was impairing her ability to concentrate and participate. Additionally, we were hearing that the instructors were unable to effectively cope with the number of students acting out, which creates an unsafe environment for everyone in the schools.  Our daughter was feeling anxious and depressed, dreading going to school and as a result her grades were negatively impacted. To address our concerns, we inquired at the schools to learn more and we were discouraged by the enormity of the problems in the schools.  So we began the journey of exploring homeschool options.  That's when we came across online public school as an alternative to homeschool.  While there are several online public school options in our area, we chose to participate in K12.

In our state, the K12 program that our daughter attends is called WAVA (Washington Virtual Academies).  WAVA and all the other K12 programs in other states are conducted entirely online.  Each state's program is aligned with a specific school district.  For our state, WAVA is hosted by the Omak School District, which is located on the other side of the state from us.  About 3,400 students all across Washington participate in the program.  When our daughter graduates, her diploma will indicate she attended Omak School District and it will look the same as any other diploma from that school district, which also has physical schools.

Since online public schools are part of the tax-funded public school system (which our tax dollars have been paying in to all these years), we are able to take advantage of school resources without the burden of additional out-of-pocket costs that homeschool families would normally face.  This means there is no extra charge for tuition, for our daughter to attend online classes or for her to use school textbooks.  Much like traditional public school, her high school day is broken out into different subject areas each with an instructor.  Textbooks and other supplies required for each course are sent to us by mail and there is no charge for these.  We simply return the books and any leftover materials by mail at the end of the semester, reusing the shipping box that they were delivered to us in. WAVA also provided her with a laptop to use this year, which is returned at the end of the school year.

Each day in online public school, our daughter has several live classes conducted online using a technology called Blackboard.  The live sessions are quite remarkable.  The teacher's whiteboard (similar to a chalkboard) fills the middle of the screen, there is audio and there is often video as well so that the students can see the teacher talking.  Students can use a chat box to share their input during class discussions and are able to see what the other students have typed. Overall the live session feels much like an ordinary in-person class.

The curriculum includes online instruction that is not live as well.  At her leisure during the day, she can read the on-screen material, consult her textbook, watch the videos that go with the curriculum, and complete quizzes and tests online.  She has become proficient in Microsoft Office programs, including doing spreadsheets in Excel, putting together PowerPoint presentations, preparing essays in Microsoft Word and so forth, as a result of course requirements and the instruction they have provided.  In today's technologically advanced world, we're very pleased that our daughter has been able to master these skills as part of her curriculum so that she will be ready for the workforce in the future.

The decision to homeschool means there needs to be an adult presence in the home. WAVA requires an adult who is home to serve as the learning coach, helping to make sure the student makes it to their online classes on time, gets the help needed when struggling with any assignments, and provides encouragement and guidance as their child interacts with the school and with other students so that the student can succeed.  We also feel our role as a learning coach is to help make sure there are social engagement opportunities and the chance to build friends with other kids.

Now that our daughter is midway through her second year at WAVA, we would have to say that overall we are very pleased with the program.  WAVA requires respectful behavior in every class and students are held accountable to that requirement.  There are no distractions from learning and so students can advance quickly.  The program provides an academic structure, state-approved curriculum, knowledgeable and engaging teachers, and opportunities for social interaction.

Our daughter is an honor student intending to pursue a college degree after high school.  By staying with the public school system albeit in an online environment, we stay connected with the network of college and career-related learning opportunities that are provided through the public schools. In fact, we've already begun participating in some of these learning opportunities by attending a WAVA-organized college exploration event.  We'll also be able to more easily learn about and access college scholarship opportunities, which I've heard from parents in our area who privately homeschool can be difficult for their families to find out about.

Most importantly, after switching to online public school, our daughter is no longer experiencing the anxiety, stress and depression that she was dealing with while in the physical school.  Her grades have improved.  She is once again engaged with learning.  She's made new friends.

Online public school may not be the best option for every child, but for those families searching for an alternative to physical school and who are unsure they have the wherewithal to homeschool, it is a great solution. It merges what I feel are the best features of public school and home school: state-approved curriculum targeted to students' needs, leadership from outstanding educators, an engaging and structured learning format, and the ability to participate from the comfort and safety of home.

For more information about K12, visit  Information about WAVA can be found at