connections academy

Students of virtual schools enjoy many of the same benefits of classic school such as playing sports and attending a graduation ceremony.

Like many high school graduates, David Wheeler’s excitement for summer has evolved from the typical vacation from classes to looking to the future.

“It feels great,” said Wheeler, a recent high school graduate from Murrells Inlet. “I’m excited for college.”

He will be attending Purdue University and plans to pursue a degree in engineering. He is preparing for a first-year engineering program as a Boilermaker in order to “get a feel for all the different [engineering] disciplines.”

However, unlike most local graduates, Wheeler has not been inside a classic brick-and-mortar classroom since sixth grade. Instead, he graduated from South Carolina Connections Academy, a public and virtual education experience. The school is one of seven online school options in South Carolina and like every public school, it is free.

Wheeler identifies many advantages to the virtual school experience and said if he had a choice to go back in time, he would go the virtual route again.

“Honestly, I don’t feel any drawbacks,” he said. “It’s not homeschool. It’s an online public school.”

As such, Wheeler interacts with accredited South Carolina teachers and enjoys a variety of online interactions which consist of tests, research and live lessons. He even has the opportunity to do group projects. As part of his Advanced Placement calculus course, Wheeler participated in a group project utilizing an interactive whiteboard that his group partners were able to use at the same time. They were also able to work through the problems together through integrated conference calls.

While the virtual experience may lack lockers, cafeterias and passing notes when the teacher isn’t looking, there is still plenty of opportunity to participate in local, school activities. Wheeler said students at the virtual school can still participate in clubs and activities at the local brick-and-mortar schools. He was part of the robotics and chess clubs at Waccamaw High School. He also had the freedom to participate in sports.

The main difference is the attention he can receive from teachers. Because interactions are virtual, teachers can easily divert their attention to address students on an individual basis more regularly. It allows them to not only have a better understanding of where each student is excelling or struggling, but to address learning obstacles personally and more efficiently to ensure comprehension, Wheeler said. As a result of the individual approach, students are able to work at their own pace without being left behind or getting bored with material that is too easy.

“Teachers can see where you are and progress you through the course,” Wheeler said. “Teachers are constantly making sure you’re on track and understanding concepts. They can reach out when they see you struggling in areas.”

Another aspect Wheeler’s experience that should appeal to most students is the fact that they don’t have homework. Where homework helps teachers gauge a student’s comprehension of material on a large-scale basis, the efficient nature of the virtual classroom accomplishes this goal through the lessons and assessments that are addressed individually.

It is not just the students who benefit. Janet, his mother, was very satisfied with her experience as a parent. She says it is a very efficient use of time. Carpool lines, bus stop schedules and pushing kids out the door with a Pop-tart are things of the past. Their family had the freedom to travel where most parents are confined to a calendar and daily school schedules. She was also able to have an awareness of her child’s progress and struggles on a daily basis.

“It’s good to see if they’re struggling or excelling in something,” she said. “You see it right away. You don’t have to wait for progress reports.”

Janet reiterated her son’s sentiment regarding the personal attention and pointed out the ability to call any of the teachers for any reason.

“They’re approachable,” she said. “They’re real people.”

For those who might be anxious to give virtual public schools a try, Wheeler says to simply give it a try and see if you like it. There are plenty of social opportunities both local and virtual. He met one of his best friends through his virtual school. The flexibility allows for a wider range of life experiences and you can still participate in local schools. Wheeler took final exams in Columbia because his family was traveling on vacation.

They even have their own prom.

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