Online school helps some Indianapolis students feel safe and independent

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – As talks continue in Daleville after the closure of two online charter schools, many parents are looking for different online options for their students.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to online learning. It’s not a good fit for every family, but for the families that it is, there are many options, especially in Indiana.

One of those options is Connections Academy, which has over 4,000 students enrolled right now. The students receive a strict curriculum, a teacher for each subject who’s also online, and a learning coach who’s typically someone they can talk to in-person.

Some people have misconceptions about what online students do in a day. Some think students sit around in their pajamas all day, only work when they have to, and are “lazy.” Students enrolled in Connections have different reasons for taking school online.

“I got surrounded with a lot of bad people, and I wanted to get out of that,” Abigail Taylor said. She is a 10th grader in Connections. She was enrolled in a traditional school, but she left to switch to online learning.

She says she just didn’t feel safe at school.

“I feel like I’m in a much safer place with all that happened last year in 2018,” said Abigail. “I felt really uncomfortable going to a brick and mortar school thinking someone could go in there and just end it all, but here I feel safe because I’m at the house.”

Sophie Taylor has an autoimmune disease which requires her to go to multiple doctors’ appointments a week. If she were in a traditional school, she’s be severely behind. But she says it isn’t a walk in the park going to online school. Instead, she has to make sure she stays motivated.

“I want to do all my schoolwork, and knowing that I can get all that done in just one day and getting it done as early as I possibly can keeps me motivated,” said Sophie. “I know I can work ahead and get it done instead of having to sit in a classroom for eight hours a day. And so, just that standpoint of not having to be rushed all the time really motivates me…just knowing that I have my own time to do it.”

Abigail and four other students enrolled in Connections go to Sophie’s house every weekday morning to go to "school." Sophie’s house is a "classroom" of sorts. They start their day around 8 or 9 and start their assignments for the day.

Alissa Pryor is a 6th grade science teacher with Connections. She’s taught many students, including Sophie. She says even though she’s online, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a rapport with her students.

“It’s different from a classroom where you have 30 kids in a room and the craziness, chaos that ensues from that,” said Pryor. “I’m really able to build connections with students that are individualized and personal and help them through their journey through school.”

Students can reach their teachers in several ways—webmail, texting, calling, and they can even book a time to virtually meet with their teacher.

But the teacher isn’t the only adult Connections students have—they also have in-person Learning Coaches.

Sophie’s mom, Stacy Taylor, is a learning coach. She says it has not only helped her family become closer, but it has helped her really become involved in what her kids are learning in school.

“I actually see what they’re learning so, you know when people say, 'Oh this wasn’t in that book or they’ve added this to the curriculum,' I can look at the book and say, 'No, they haven’t’ or ‘Yeah, it’s there,’" said Stacy. “So, I at least feel I know what they’re doing. There’s a 7-year age gap between my kids. So, with where my boys are at and all the activities they’re in, they wouldn’t really know Sophie very well if they had gone to a brick and mortar.”

Learning Coach Jennifer Young said she had her own reasons for becoming a coach and enrolling her own kids into Connections.

“My husband was going through cancer treatment, so for us…I could be available to take him to appointments or my kids could - when my son was old enough, he could drive but then not miss his school day as well, and we have that family time,” said Young. “It prevented us from worrying about what he might need or when we might need to be available and it allowed us to be just have that family time.”

Young says Connections gave her the time together her family needed.

“That was really important when we found out something that drastic that we wanted to be together,” said Young. “We wanted to be able to spend as much time together as possible and be a part of our children’s lives.”

But online learning isn’t for everyone. Pryor says a good Learning Coach can make all the difference for a good online learning experience.

“If there’s not a parent or grandparent at home or aunt, uncle or some trusted adult at home to help that student, it’s probably not the right place for them,” said Pryor. “High school students can be pretty self-sufficient during the day, of course, with no parental help, but they still need a learning coach to guide them through everything, make sure they’re on task. So, definitely students that don’t have that strong parental or learning coach support, don’t succeed—they don’t do well with us.”

Even though there’s a Learning Coach to help out, they can’t do all the work for the students. The students really learn skills to make them more independent; things like sending their teacher requests to meet when they don’t understand something or when they need more help.

“It’s helping students learn time management skills but also learn a little bit of independence, especially at the middle school level,” said Pryor. “That’s what we talk about a lot in 6th grade is you’re learning how to take charge of your own education and learning when to show up on time and be somewhere when you say you’re going to be. A lot of that independence is fostered from being at home and being with your parents learning.”

Some think that enrolling in online learning means kids miss out on the social aspect of school, but for Connections students, that’s not the case. Students go on field trips, prom, and they can even get involved in sports leagues just for online learning students.

Connections Academy is just one option for online learning in Indiana. There are many other options available for students.

If you’d like to learn more about Connections, click here.

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