Last year, Keystone Oaks began requiring its Juniors to take an online health class. Though many students resented the class as nothing more than homework to add to their growing hoard, this mandatory class has helped to highlight a steadily rising prominence of cyberschool and, more importantly, the significance of student choice in schooling and education.
Though choice in education mostly flourishes after high school graduation, in this technologically advanced day-and-age some students have the advantage of taking lessons straight from the comfort of their own home. Virtual school (or ‘Cyberschool’ as some have taken to calling it) is primarily a chance for students who find day-school to be more harmful than helpful to take education to a more personal, free-form level.
“Well,” explained current senior cyber-student, Claire Ewing, “on the cyber class they do have, like, designated dates that they should be done by, but you’re not gonna get any bad grades if you don’t get it done by that point.”
Though the official state cyber schooling program, Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, has been around since 2000, Keystone Oaks fully implemented their cyber program in 2012 as an attempt to help students with credit troubles. Rather than fail to meet the credit requirements of graduation, students have the option to take extra classes online to meet their quota.
“Our cyberschool is set up for credit recovery first and foremost,” Mrs. Bogdanski, head of the English division for KO Cyber, stated. “If [students] don’t have a passing grade in, say, English 9, then instead of going to summer school they have the option to take the online class. With the credit recovery, that draws some students so then they don't have to pay for summer school and they can work at their own pace.”
Preferring to ‘work at your own pace’ seems to be a common need for students who enroll in the cyber program. As Ewing explained, assignments in the curriculum do have set due dates, but they’re more of a recommendation than a deadline. Overdue assignment can still be turned in for full credit and, inversely, assignments can be turned in long before their set due date.
Of course, dictating your own pace in the classroom is both a blessing and a curse. Some students have difficulty managing their schedule even with teachers in control, so it goes without saying that learning from home provides plenty of ways to get distracted and fall behind in your learning. When asked how she effectively managed her schedule, Ewing responded plainly.
While teachers don't directly influence the speed of learning, that's not to say that they're completely absent from the process. Teachers, aside from setting up the assignments for the courses themselves, are also available for a minimal level of interaction to help students with troublesome assignments.
This kind of personal pressure begs the question: why would someone forgo teacher assistance and scheduling to take classes by themselves? Having to learn the fundamentals required by the American education system on your own sounds, at face value, like a crushing amount of responsibility. Simply put, some just desire to have a degree of control over their education.
“I've been trying to do cyberschool since, like, seventh grade, so… it was… I feel like if I didn't have a choice and I had to do cyber, I wouldn't actually be interested in doing it, y’know? But, like, this way, like… it's more of ‘I chose to do this, so if I fail it's my own fault.’ It's not ‘You forced me into this, so it's your fault that I'm failing.’”
While Ewing’s drive to prove that she can do what she sets her mind to pushed her to switch to cyber, some people have neither the desire nor the choice. As previously detailed, credit recovery and the mandatory health class are not assigned by choice, but in some cases, such as expulsion, full integration is not a choice either.
“Being forced to take cyber courses rather than choosing to certainly had a negative impact on my attitude, my work ethic, and my willingness to put time and effort into my work,” detailed one student, a junior, who shall remain anonymous. “It is very important to me that I have a choice in what my education is and how it functions. My lack of choice, I felt, had only a negative impact on me, my work, and my learning.”
Choice, or more specifically, the freedom of choice, is important to anyone. Choice is grounding, as making decisions for oneself shows maturity and control. When that control is taken away, people will often find a lack of drive as a result.
The junior has returned to day school for this year, and Ewing continues to take cyber courses for her final year of high school at Keystone Oaks. Regardless of their current situation, both were asked this: if given the chance to switch to the other format, be that day school or cyber, would they go back? Their answers came near-instantly, mirroring both their convictions and each other.