Highlight of a Virtual School Family: Karin Piper

Today, I’m excited to intorduce you to Karin Piper.

Karin is author of Charter Schools: The Ultimate Handbook for Parents, founder of Parent Led Reform, and a huge supporter of parents’ rights to choose the best public school option for their child. Karin’s 12-year old son is enrolled in his first year with Colorado Calvert Academy, a multi-district online program in Colorado. Karin is a good friend of mine and I am delighted to share with you her answers to some questions I asked.

How did you learn about your virtual school?

Research on reputable homeschooling curriculum led us to the Calvert Baltimore Dayschool, which has served homeschoolers via correspondence for more than 130 years. After a quick internet search we learned they had an online charter school, which we could access the curriculum for free. I was looking for a program with a certain level of structured accountability, textbook/online combination that could be used toward project-based learning, as well as having significant teacher support.

If you moved from a traditional brick and mortar school to a virtual school, what was the defining moment when you realized something had to change?

Our child had been asking for about a year to learn at home. He had tons of friends and worked hard at school. But he had a burning wish to spend more time with his family. The brick-and-mortar school he went to is highly reputable and has served our family well (we have two other children). But we began to notice that our child excelled at projects and was working very hard when it came to traditional learning styles.

We began tracking his testing and realized that his growth was not as significant as his peers in reading. It had not been for several years. The school was watching it too. But since he does not have any identified special needs, it was difficult to address.

The results were not terrible. He was right around the rest of the herd in his class. But we felt he was capable of more. He had just turned 11. Having an older child, we knew that his desire to be home may change over the next several months. We figured this was our opportunity to bring him home and give his reading skills an amount of attention which would not be feasible to request in a classroom of 24 children. Parental involvement is a known key to a child’s success. How much more can a parent be involved than in a home-based learning environment?

What has your experience been with your virtual school and how satisfied are you with your virtual school?

Our experience has been amazing! We will never forget the time that we have had learning at home. Just the other evening my husband and I were discussing how close we have become as a family. Our son has taken initiative to build stronger bonds with his siblings, particularly his little sister. He seeks conversations with us about serious topics. We talk at length about pressures that face teens today and how to discern right from wrong. He has become an avid volunteer and even taken a regular babysitting job through the children’s ministry. Our son has a strong interest in technology and has through the virtual environment been able to flourish with this. He has taught some of his friends how to create animation movies and create comics. For his 12th birthday he received graphic design software. He is creating various designs to open an online t-shirt store. In short, the virtual school has given him the ability and confidence to pursue interests much beyond the borders of a typical school. Since he can finish a days’ worth of work much quicker at home than if he had to wait for an entire class of children, he has the benefit of spending more time learning things he is really interested in. His only complaint has been that it takes so long for his friends to come home and they are so boggled down with homework. In his school-world it is all homework, and it was done hours ago.

Calvert Academy has been great for us. From the principal to our teacher, we have solid support. Calvert offers “Learning Guide University.” It is a gem worth mentioning which I hope more online programs will provide. It is designed to support the learning guide in understanding what expectations are on ourselves and our children, and tips and tricks from the teaching experts. It is what I call “professional development for parents.”

There are so many benefits to virtual schooling, what is the greatest benefit for your family?

We really appreciate the flexibility virtual schooling provides. My son likes to be a few lessons ahead, so if he gets stuck on a subject he can take the extra time to really understand it. We have been able to plan family vacations by working ahead in our material, and as a result, not miss a beat by being boggled down by catch-up work when we return.

As a parent, are you satisfied with your child’s academic performance and progress since being enrolled in the virtual school?

Yes, our child has become a very independent learner. I see traits and work habits that would be valuable for any employee that has a home-office. We finally understand that our child has been dealing with a visual tracking issue when it comes to reading. His online school immediately enrolled him in a reading program that addresses such problems the summer prior to the new school year. Now he is an honor roll student, and has even been invited to the schools spelling bee club. That is quite the accomplishment for him as it was only his siblings that did spelling bees before this year.

How do you as a parent help your child socialize?  What activities is your child involved in?

Our kids mostly socialize with kids through sports and other activities anyway. Our son plays soccer and enjoys robotics and church. He has built many friendships there. He also gets together with kids from his old school. For a while he’d even go to their holiday parties and such.

How does your child interact with and communicate with the teachers in the virtual school?

My child has two online classes per week and submits 4-6 samples per week. He also emails his teacher or meets with her online when needed for extra support.

How would your child describe his/her experience with the virtual school?

My child especially likes his teacher. When she sends him feedback that he can improve on he always comments that she is so good to him. He goes to her when he feels he can do more or when he is ready to move on. I know he likes to show off on the work he submits to her.

Do you feel that your child is receiving individualized learning?  If so, please provide examples. 

He goes through spurts where math, in particular, gets either very easy or he needs more time. I work with his teacher to adjust the material accordingly. We also tend to geek out in our science classes and sometimes explore beyond the curriculum. We post some of our pictures on Facebook.

Describe the schoolroom or the effective study environment where school typically takes place.

Our learning takes place all over the house. Usually he likes to find a semi-lit quiet place in the house and disappear with his textbooks. Most often math, language, and reading is done with little help from me. We do history, geography and science in the kitchen. There are days when we take off and bring our books with us to libraries, parks or coffee shops. Just for fun and new scenery.

How important do you feel it is for your student to be self-motivated and a self-starter in this online model?

It depends on the parent/learning guide. Personally I would have little issue prompting my child to learn. Some mornings I do! Other days my child wakes up before his alarm and has a significant portion of work done before I return from dropping the siblings off at their schools. In a virtual model where the instructions are clear for both the learning guide and student, I believe there is room both for self starters and those who enjoy working with their parent.

Do you feel that your virtual school is preparing your child for college or the workforce after high school?

Yes, my child could not only attend a regular college, but I am confident he would succeed in an online college if he wished.

As learning coach/mentor, how much time do you devote every day to your child’s education?

It really depends on the day. We have had days when our son has been very independent and needed little guidance. Other times I have spent 7-8 hours working with him. Since he is in 6th grade, he enjoys feeling he can take charge himself. So even on the days when he requires little direct instruction I work as his editor and constructive coach. He knows the question I am about to ask “Is this your best work?”

How do you as a parent/learning coach/mentor partner with your student’s teachers?

I receive emails from our teacher weekly. She writes the learning expectations as well as the items she needs submitted. She follows up with corrections at the end of the week. In addition, I call her when I have questions. Just last week there was a science lesson that called for items that were not part of the science kit. We were able to complete the experiment with substitutes after talking with our teacher. The teacher then requested for me to send an email to the school noting the missing supplies for future reference. I have also sped up or slowed down my child’s pace through the support of the teacher. She has never said that I am asking too much, or that she has a class of other kids to consider, when I tell her I’d like to modify based on something I am observing. I will tell her what I see and how, she will then make suggestions.

How would you describe your role as learning coach/mentor in the online model?

Being totally biased I believe I am a highly valuable asset to my child’s success. (Come to think of it, I should get a raise…or at least a plaque. LOL!) I keep my child on task, making sure he submits his best work every time. I also communicate with the teacher if he needs help, or coach him how to do so himself. Most importantly, I am my child’s advocate. I know my child better than anyone and will make sure what he needs is provided.

Years ago we didn’t have the educational options that are available today.  How important is choice in education to you as a parent?

I have three bright and creative children. They are each unique. Each have different strengths and weaknesses. We have selected three different schools for them based on their individual needs. My husband and I seek to strengthen our children for who they are. We want them to embrace their God-given talents. We tell them every day that we love them just the way they are. We do not want them to try to be something they are not. Think about how many kids that go through a system trying desperately to fit in and feeling like there is something wrong with them. Isn’t it compassion that we seek to teach our children? Do we not want them to embrace and appreciate those who are different? Then how can we imagine that all children must go to one school? There is no such a thing as one-size-fits-all in education.

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  1. Thank you, Karin, for taking the time to share your virtual school experiences. I completely agree with you on the importance of choice in education. You’re so right, there is no such thing as a cookie-cutter, assembly line education where one size fits all!

  2. This is terrific insight into how (and why) a parent can make virtual home-based learning work in such a phenomenal way. Well done, Karin! Thank you for sharing what you’ve experienced.

  3. Laurie Duke says:

    Wow! Thank you for your thoughtful comments and praise for our school. I am so glad that your son is enjoying the program, too which has allowed him to learn at his pace and explore deeper his areas of interest. Of course, his success depends on strong parent support, dedicated teachers, and a program that fits your child’s needs. It sounds like this is all in place at your house. As a graduate of the brick and mortar school in Baltimore, I was totally onboard to help start a virtual charter school in Colorado using the Calvert program. It is exciting for me to hear about the positive experiences of our students and their families. Giving your child the best possible education is one of the most important investments a parent can make.

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