How Virtual Instruction Can Help Alternative Learning Groups


For students who are poorly or incompletely served by their local schools, a virtual classroom can provide the ideal solution and level the educational playing field.

The Best Thing to Happen to Alternative Students

The term alternative student is, perhaps, a bit overused in our society. Most students fall into that category at some point during their career. While most learn to work cooperatively and enjoy a traditional classroom model in time, there are those for whom, for a variety of reasons, the standard model just doesn't work. Thanks to the rise of virtual learning alternatives, these students can now have access to the same superior learning materials as their peers and access them on their own terms.

Bound by Geography


In the past, access to quality education was hampered not only by the quality of schools in a neighborhood district but for some students, actual geography as well. In remote parts of Alaska, for instance, homeschooling is common, due to the lack of organized schools and a dearth of teachers. This lack can be true in inner-city neighborhoods as well. For some students, access to education is limited to failing schools with overcrowded classrooms. In a recent report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education, poor and minority student achievement was well below their white, affluent peers. Virtual learning can provide these students with resources their local schools cannot, helping them to achieve success in spite of the limitations of their surroundings. These aren't the only students who stand to gain from online resources, however.

Physical Limitations

When my son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, we faced an agonizing choice; send him back to public school, or seek an alternative environment. We knew that in our state, teachers were prohibited by law from giving him the shots he needed to survive. Since there was no nurse present, that meant he would have to rely on himself. Because of his young age, we feared he could miscalculate the dose, causing irreparable harm, or refuse to take it altogether. After weighing our options, we decided to educate him at home. This made him part of a growing group of home-educated students - those with mental or physical limitations that made public school classrooms difficult or impossible to attend.

A Well-Rounded Option


Being a certified teacher, I had no issue believing that I could provide a well-balanced learning experience for my son. Having to do it while holding down a full-time position and attending school myself was an issue. I doubted I would be able to balance my schedule with his and his education would suffer as a result. I had used limited online learning programs with my younger students and wondered if there were options available to help us both.

It turns out that not only did my local school district offer classes for home-bound students; there were also private and public school alternatives available that met district requirements. My son would be paired with certified teachers in a variety of subjects, providing the support he needed while still allowing him to explore on his own. It sounded like the ideal option.

Extra Curriculars

Finding an online school that my son liked was exciting for both of us. It allowed him to choose the teachers and learning options he liked best while meeting state standards. Since these classes were self-paced, it also meant that, if he were motivated, he could finish his school work in a fraction of the time of a standard class, allowing him to explore other topics at will. Because of his interest in computers, we sought online classes that paired him with other programmers and allowed them to connect after class was complete, sometimes daily even though many were hundreds of miles away. It was a bonus we hadn't expected and gave him many opportunities to socialize with his peers.

Hope for All Learners


Because we were able to find virtual options, many at no cost to us, our son's education progressed rapidly. His condition, which sometimes hampered his ability to function, was no longer an issue since he could study at his own pace when he was able. We were not bound by the quality of offerings of our district or the location of the schools he attended.

And we learned that we are not alone.

Just in our county, we've met dozens of students with physical limitations, behavioral issues, medical conditions, and differing learning abilities who have chosen virtual instruction. Regardless of the reason for their choices, families praised the ability to provide a high-quality education even if they lacked the formal education to do it themselves.

While a virtual classroom isn't an ideal fit for every student, for our alternative students, it has been a godsend. The virtual classroom gave them the opportunity to feel normal when society suggested otherwise. For us, this simple gift was worth the extra work or cost we may have incurred in the process and we are eternally grateful for the opportunity it has provided.

By Patricia Willis
December 2016
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