Highlight of a Virtual School Family: Tillie Elvrum

Today Tillie Elvrum shares her virtual school journey with us. 

Tillie’s 15 year old son J.D., is a 9th grade Colorado Connections Academy student.  Tillie is a good friend of mine and a passionate supporter of virtual schools and choice in education.  Tillie is an active and valuable contributing member of the Colorado Coalition of Cyberschool Families Board of Directors.

I hope you enjoy Tillie’s responses to these questions as much as I did.

How did you learn about your virtual school? 

I learned about virtual schools while researching traditional homeschooling curriculums.  I saw that two virtual school programs were holding info sessions at my local library and decided to check them out.  When I attended the Connections Academy session I knew right away that this would be a great option for J.D.

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?

My son was a student in a top-rated public school in Pennsylvania, but his first three years of school were marred by teacher strikes.  Over the period of three years we saw the quality of instruction decline, and the parent/teacher/administration relationships fell apart.  That was one of the main factors for looking for an alternative to a traditional brick and mortar school.

There’s a variety of reasons why parents chose a virtual school for their child, what’s your reason for enrolling your child in a virtual school?

As I stated before, teacher strikes were a big factor in our decision, but we also wanted to be more involved with our son’s education and we didn’t feel that our neighborhood school was meeting his needs.  The fact that we could have the benefits of homeschooling while being supported by certified teachers really helped us make our decision to virtual school.

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

We are very satisfied with our virtual school experience.  It takes a lot of work and planning as a family, but we know that it’s been the best option for J.D.

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

The greatest benefit to virtual schooling has been our ability to stay connected as a family.  We are a family on the move — we travel and we’ve moved because of my husband’s career.  Because our school isn’t confined to a school building or district boundary, J.D. can do his school work anywhere and at a time that is convenient.

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

I am very satisfied with J.D.’s academic performance.  J.D. has a learning disability and when he was enrolled at his previous school he was very discouraged because he was placed in a learning support environment with children that had very different needs than his.  He just needed more time to learn new concepts; he has no social or behavior issues, but often felt punished because he was in a class with children who needed a different kind of support in the classroom.  In his first year with Connections Academy, he blew away the “goals” that were established for him by his traditional brick and mortar school.  Virtual schooling has allowed J.D. to learn at his own pace while taking part in a very challenging academic curriculum.  He has a love and passion for learning and our virtual school supports that every single day.

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

As a virtual school parent I believe we have to make an extra effort to give our students social opportunities outside of the home.  J.D. has played guitar since he was in kindergarten.  He’s played a variety of sports through our local school districts or recreation leagues.  He’s participated in homeschool P.E. programs at our local YMCA.  J.D. has participated in community theater.  He’s involved with church youth group and has volunteered for many different causes.  As a parent I also volunteer as a Community Coordinator for our school — I organize field trips and social opportunities for ColoCa families, as J.D. has gotten older he’s become my right-hand man, and he helps me organize and run the various activities I host throughout the year.

What academic or fun field trips does your virtual school offer throughout the year?  What about student clubs?

Our school provides ample field trips and educational opportunities.  This year alone our students have taken a walking tour of downtown Denver, participated in the Colorado Springs Cool Science Festival, volunteered at local food banks, gone hiking in state parks across the state, and attended various picnics and social gatherings.

Our school also has many student clubs including:  Chess, Math, Yearbook, Creative Writing, a Student Literary Magazine, Quiz Bowl, Science Fair, Robotics, and Student Leadership and Service Club.

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

Our students communicate with their teachers on a daily basis either by webmail, phone calls, or LiveLessons. 

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

I think J.D. would tell you he loves his school.  When we started our virtual school experience we always said we would take it year by year, but three states and three Connections Academy schools later, he always says that he wants to be a Connections Academy graduate.

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

J.D. does receive individualized learning; we are able to make accommodations to the curriculum that help him work at his own pace while working within the challenging curriculum. 

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

We have always been blessed to have a room in our home solely dedicated as a classroom.  J.D. has a desk and computer provided by the school.  And I have a desk in the room as well.  We have wipeboards and bookcases…it really looks very much like a traditional classroom, just on a smaller scale.  I think having a dedicated space really helps distinguish between school time and family time — when we walk through the classroom door, J.D. becomes student, and I become Learning Coach.  We have certain expectations during the school day and I think that helps J.D. stay motivated and responsible for his school work.

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

I think virtual schooling prepares students to be self-motivated.  Your student may not be a self-starter from the beginning, but with your guidance, your students can learn how to plan their time and work through the curriculum. 

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

I feel that our school is giving our students the tools they need to prepare for college, the workforce, and military after graduation.  They offer career and educational counseling as soon as their freshman year.

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

I spend a good part of my day with J.D., going over his work, reading and discussing, and being a support to him if he has questions.  I don’t spend as much time doing instruction as I did in the lower grades because J.D. has more LiveLessons and opportunities to work online with his teachers.  I’m there to help him if he’s struggling with a concept or if he has questions.

How involved are you as a parent in your child’s everyday learning?

I start each day by checking webmails from the school and teachers, checking on J.D.’s graded work to see if there is anything we need to go over, and looking ahead in the curriculum to see if there are any special supplies we might need for projects, etc.  J.D. gets started and I check on him throughout the day answering questions.

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

As a parent I’m able to reach out to J.D.’s teachers on a regular basis.  I can see J.D.’s grades at any time during the school day — I know right away if there is a problem and the teacher and I can work to address the issue.

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

My role as a Learning Coach of a high schooler is mainly about guidance and being there to support my student.

What are your thoughts about choice in education?

I am a very passionate supporter of virtual schools and school choice, as a parent I know my child the very best and I want to work with teachers and administrators to give him the very best education possible.  I believe when parents and choice are cut out of the equation we do a huge disservice to our students.

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

Choice is very important to me as a parent…I’m so very thankful for the choices afforded to my student, but many families are being held hostage to failing schools and we must continue to work to provide educational options for all our students.

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Comments

  1. Thanks so much for sharing your story Tillie and for all you do for the school choice movement.

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