One of the primary benefits of online school is that it allows students to complete their education unencumbered by restrictions of time or place. In other words, online school gives students the ability to attend school from any location, on a schedule that’s based on their individual needs and preferences.
At iUniversity Prep, for example, many of our students are elite athletes or dancers who intend to pursue those fields as careers, which means that they need to spend many hours a week training or competing. We also have students who are working models and actors, as well as students who have special medical needs. All of these are examples of students who benefit greatly from a work-from-anywhere, flexible schedule school environment.
Since our opening a few years ago, we’ve noticed that some of the dance academies and gymnastics clubs where our students train have chosen to offer supervised support and services that make it possible for students more easily integrate their extra-curricular training with their academic education.
If you’re considering implementing a similar program at your facility, we’d be happy to answer any questions you might have about best practices. In the meanwhile, we can get the ball rolling by taking a look at these tips for supporting online schooling:
One: Do your research.
Before you commit to setting up an online education program at your facility, we suggest that you become familiar with the policies, practices, and general environment of the online school(s) your students will be attending. Study the website, visit with the school’s director, attend a virtual information session, sit in on a live lesson, and follow the school on social media. Be sure and also register for any newsletters or other communication that the school sends out.
Two: Create a dedicated space for learning.
As much as students love to try and work sprawled on the floor with music blaring in their ears, it’s best if they have a quiet space to study that includes a chair and a flat surface, like a desk or a table, in a comfortable chair with back support.
Your facility’s “classroom” space should be well-lit, relatively free of noise and distractions, and able to hold a few chairs, desks or tables. It’s also a good idea to situate your space close to a power outlet that students can easily and safely access.
Three: Invest in reliable Wi-Fi.
We highly recommend that students work in an environment with a password-protected, high-speed internet connection (e.g. cable, DSL, FiOS). Note that students with 56 kbps modems may be unable to participate in some activities. If your Wi-Fi signal is weak, slow, or unreliable, students are going to encounter routine problems connecting with school. Make sure to test your signal in different locations in your facility at different times of the day, and get with your provider (or get a new provider) if you notice any consistent issues.
Four: Establish regular “school” hours.
Online students tend to perform better when they carve out designated times during the week to focus on their studies. If you are supporting online students at your studio or gym, we recommend that you identify blocks of three or more hours each day for schooling, and encourage your students to stick with that schedule whenever possible.
Five: Designate a supervising staff member.
Even though online students are expected to display a high level of self-management, we still recommend that you have a qualified staff member on hand to supervise the students when they are going to school at your facility. This employee should be ready to help students navigate between “school mode” and “training or practice mode”, facilitate breaks, assist with technology or self-management issues, advise and encourage students when they get frustrated, and generally help keep students on track.
Six: Keep a backup laptop on hand.
Ideally, students should have access to a backup computer in the event of technology emergency. You should keep at least one universal power cord available, too, along with a supply of computer cleaning materials.
Seven: Keep a few school supplies on hand.
Speaking of supplies, you might consider equipping your classroom with a small stash of basic school supplies, such pens, pencils, markers, paper, highlighters and sticky note pads. Students may find them handy to have when they want to work offline to make notes, sketch out ideas, or review printed material.
Speaking of printing: In some cases, students will need or prefer to print web-based material and review it offline. To provide adequate support, you’ll need to make sure they have access to a printer that works, along with a supply of computer paper and toner.
Eight: Keep parents updated.
While your students’ parents will of course have the ultimate authority and responsibility when it comes to online schooling (see below), they will likely find it helpful for you to provide regular updates regarding their student’s habits and behavior during schooling hours. For example, if you notice that a student tends to chit-chat excessively with other students during school, or if she must be consistently prodded to get started on her Spanish homework, you may want to bring that to the attention of her parents so that they can address the matter at home.
On the flip side, don’t be shy about passing along compliments, too. Not only will parents be pleased to hear that their child is always enthusiastic about participating in live lessons, or that she’s always quick to raise her hand when other students need help, they’ll be able to reinforce these good habits with positive feedback and praise.
Nine: Know your boundaries.
As referenced above, a gymnasium or dance studio is meant to support, not substitute for the role of a parent in an online student’s education. That’s why it’s a good idea to sit down with parents and make sure that both parties have a clear understanding of roles and boundaries.
That being said, there's nothing wrong celebrating with your students when they hit important milestones or earn special recognition. Take a few minutes here and there in your online classroom to acknowledge the hard work that goes into preparation for standardized testing, the end of semester exams, completion of a big project, or grade promotions or graduation.
Dr. Kaye Rogers received her Ph.D. in Educational Administration with a minor in Statistics from the University of North Texas. She earned her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Tarleton State University. A life-long Texan, she has taught math and science in public schools and also in Spain. She has worked in public education for over 18 years, where she is committed to innovation and choice for families. She has opened three choice schools and is currently the Director of Virtual Learning at Grapevine-Colleyville ISD, where she oversees their state-wide virtual school and blended schools program.
Learn more about iUniversity Prep and see if online learning is right for your child. Check us out at www.iuniversityprep.org or give us a call at 817-305-4895.
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