My oldest child graduated from the local public high school in 2016. Not many kids can say they experienced just about every imaginable type of school. She attended pre-K at the local Catholic school. She was homeschooled from Kindergarten through 7th grade. She attended a charter school where she studied media arts for 8th and 9th grade. She enrolled in cyber school for 10th grade and she spent her junior and senior years at the local public school.
My other children have also experienced the various forms of education available to Pennsyvlania residents.
Each education model had a few benefits at the time. Pre-K was pretty much a waste of the effort to get there but the teacher became a good friend and I was glad for Hannah to get to know her and vice-versa.
I’ll discuss my impressions of each model.
Performing Arts Charter School
Both daughters attended the performing arts charter school at different times.
Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School is located in Midland (about 25 miles west of Pittsburgh). The junior-senior high school is a unique place and accommodates students with talents in theater, music, visual arts, writing, singing and dance, among other things. The teachers and a majority of the students have a terrific positive energy, incredible talent and the resources available for the arts is impressive.
The three-hour commute (LP pays for busing from regional hubs) was bearable but the extra long day (10.5 hours door-to-door) left little time for much else. Hannah still regrets not graduating from that school but she doesn’t regret recapturing her time after she withdrew.
The academic work was challenging and they really accommodated the arts with block scheduling. I honestly don’t know why all schools don’t try block scheduling (4 90 minute classes during the day plus a 30 min lunch) rather than cramming 7 or 8 periods into every day.
So, overall, my daughters’ experience at the charter school was positive. Had the school been 10-15 miles closer, it would have been a game-changer. It really makes me wonder why a specialized curriculum can’t be available to every child. [Oh yeah, it is with homeschooling 😉 ]
Our family has experience with Pa Cyber and PA Leadership Charter School.
All of my children wanted to try public school around junior high but three of them lacked confidence in their academic skills and thought cyber would give them a feel for public school work before they were in a very public place. It turns out that all of them are excellent students and handled the work just fine.
Cyber school gave them a good feel for the assignments, pace and format that would be expected in public school. It also gave them a taste of the passionless paper churning and unnecessary assessments that dominate the public school landscape today.
Cyber was effective for flexibility and obtaining required credits but it was mind-numbing, busy work for the most part. I wouldn’t recommend cyber school for young elementary children. I think the technology is challenging for young students to navigate on their own and the volume of work isn’t necessary for that level. (To be honest, I don’t think the volume of work given to older students is necessary or valuable-except to make teachers and administrators believe that they’re accomplishing something).
Although the format for cyber schools can vary, a parent will either have to assist a child in getting through assignments without the help of the virtual teacher or the child will have to sit in front of the computer for a few hours each day. Neither option is ideal. My youngest son enrolled in cyber school for 6th grade. At the time, PA Cyber offered a hybrid schedule. Two of his classes met daily with a teacher. His other two were self-paced.
All quizzes and tests were open book and Mark basically filled in the blanks by going through his textbooks. This is similar to his history and science classes now (he’s a freshman at the local high school). He usually gets a study guide, finds the answers in the textbook and some of the same questions make up the test.
My older son has been enrolled in cyber school for grades 8,9,10 and 12. The format is perfect for him. He can work at his own pace with accountability. He doesn’t have to attend the virtual class unless he needs to, teachers are available almost anytime for questions, he can work a little ahead but assignments must be up to date every three weeks which keeps him accountable. More than any of my children, Luke responds to outside accountability to keep him motivated and moving forward.
Since Luke plans to play D1 tennis, I was glad not to have to navigate NCAA eligibility with a homeschool transcript. Plenty of traditionally homeschooled kids play college sports, I was just happy to make a phone call and transcripts were sent-especially since the cyber model was a good fit for Luke. This is a good time to encourage you to be prepared to submit a transcript to the NCAA eligibility center with sufficient support if your tranditionally homeschooled student plans to play a sport at the Division 1 or 2 level.
Brick and Mortar Public School
Last year (2016-17), all of my children attended the local public high school (grades 8-12). As much as I would have preferred them all being home, I was relieved not to have the responsibility. I loved that they were all in the same building. They kept up with each other, looked out for each other and knew each others’ friends.
Three of them played sports which is just easier when they attend school. Not legally (all traditionally homeschooled children in Pennsylvania are allowed to participate on high school sports teams as long as they meet the same eligibility requirements as enrolled students). Logistically, it tends to be easier because practice is usually right after school. You also get to know your teammates and some coaches better.
My main complaint about public school is the massive waste of time and inflexibility. My younger daughter couldn’t take certain classes that she was interested in because they didn’t fit her schedule. As a result, she had two study halls Mondays and Wednesdays and three on Fridays. I asked if she could help in the special needs classes, go to a gym class, go to the art room….something, anything other than wasting so much time in study halls. Nope.
My younger son had World History 1 and 2 in 7th and 8th grades because that’s what all 7th and 8th graders take. Even though he covered much of the same material in 6th grade. There was no other option.
Every once in a while, I’ll take a look at Mark’s notebooks (my 9th grader) and I’m sure he’s covered the same information in science from 6th through 9th grades. That’s 4 years of frogs and cells, plants, genes, etc.. He doesn’t complain but he also isn’t inspired. I consider that a waste of time.
My younger daughter, Kate, loves Spanish but dropped out of Spanish II at the local high school because they were covering material that she had already mastered in the first semester of Spanish I at the performing arts charter school. They weren’t getting to where she left off until Spanish 4. So she would have had to waste 2 full years to get to the same point. (Again, maybe a result of the efficiency of block scheduling).
Although my older son had a good enough experience at the local high school (his group of friends were great and he got along well with his teachers), he knew he didn’t want to spend so much time in classes that he didn’t like or need. He trains year-round for tennis and the cyber model offered the credits he needed for NCAA eligibility and the flexibility to train and travel for tennis. He did take an AP US History course that he felt was challenging and improved his writing and test-taking skills. He didn’t pass the exam, though. Not many in his class scored well enough on the test to earn college credit.
I realize that most public schools aren’t equipped to accommodate individual needs and gifts but it just confirms my overall opinion that homeschooling is superior and more likely to lead a student on a path to an engaging career and an inspiring life.
I truly admire and envy families that homeschool from beginning to end. It is challenging but even with Pennsylvania’s higher regulations (compared to some other states), it can be more flexible and valuable than any other model.
I didn’t think I would have any high school homeschoolers but my younger daughter withdrew from the local high school in October to homeschool. She’s so much happier and productive. She was doing well in her classes and loved her teachers. She made some good friends but she didn’t feel that the course work was moving her toward her goals in life. Like my other kids, she was wasting a lot of time in the 8 hour day.
Now, she’s productive every day in one thing or another. She’s doing things that meet the subject and basic graduation requirements. She’s happy to be taking a class at the local community college and she’ll have enough credits under PA Homeschool Law to graduate early. (She acquired more than a year of extra English credits during her time as a Literary Arts major at the performing arts charter school).
Maybe it’s obvious but traditional homeschooling is my favorite model. I prefer the flexibility, the discretion to choose methods and materials that work for each student and the option in high school to take advantage of community college to meet high school requirements for college credit.
The other methods have served us relatively well and I’m grateful for the option. I appreciate having a perspective on all the different forms. I think the experience with the various forms of education helped my children appreciate their homeschooling more than they did before.