(BPT) - K-12 education has evolved. What used to be a linear path to academic success has expanded to a variety of nontraditional options for families and students looking to chart their own course in and after school. Schools that leverage online learning, such as full-time virtual schools, make it possible for students to pursue a top-quality education with more flexibility than the traditional classroom experience.
Nationwide, more than 275,000 K-12 students in the U.S. attended online school full-time during the 2014–15 school year, according to the 2015 Keeping Pace with K-12 Digital Learning report. A new third-party public opinion poll commissioned by Connections Academy also reveals that 86 percent of parents think America’s K-12 public school students should be able to choose tuition-free online learning options.
Further evidence of this shift to digital can be found in the Class of 2016, with many top graduates arriving at this important milestone via a nontraditional path — online learning. Connections Academy online schools are expected to graduate more than 4,000 students this year across 24 states — and many of those students will have completed their entire high school educations online. In fact, students who are enrolled in Connections Academy schools for all four years of high school have a graduation rate of 84 percent.
Although they traveled a unique path to their high school graduation, students and alumni assert they are experiencing the same success as their traditional public school peers. Recent 2016 graduates from Connections Academy-supported online schools were accepted to more than 690 four-year colleges and universities in each U.S. state including the District of Columbia, and others have plans to continue their education at two-year colleges or vocational schools, start careers or enter the military.
Texas twins Kelley and Courtlyn Ranly chose to attend online public school Texas Connections Academy to pursue their passion for rodeo. During their high school careers the sisters have been active National Honor Society members, maintained honor roll with a 4.47 GPA (on a 4.0 weighted scale), and, recently, they celebrated their achievements alongside their peers as they served as co-valedictorians for the school’s class of 2016. Outside of school, the flexibility to schedule their classes around their extracurricular activities allowed these Texas 4-H Livestock Ambassadors to volunteer at a local veterinary clinic and raise livestock, which won them several awards at the state’s largest county fair.
Courtlyn and Kelley will continue to pave their own path this summer as they travel to Argentina and Uruguay to learn about the agricultural industry on a global scale, seeking a different type of pre-college summer break than many of their classmates. Come fall, the sisters will further pursue their passions at Texas A&M University as animal science majors, with the shared goal of one day opening a veterinary clinic together.
When traditional schools did not fit the needs of Jeffrey Crouch, who has a unique educational learning need as a visually impaired student, he joined Great Lakes Cyber Academy. Transitioning to online school made it possible for Jeffrey, working closely with his teachers, to pursue an individualized education. As the president of the Michigan Association of Blind Students and president of the Genesee County Chapter at the National Federation of the Blind in Michigan, Jeffrey is actively involved in advocating for equal treatment of people with disabilities, a role that’s taken him to Capitol Hill to discuss advocacy issues. Jeffrey will graduate from high school this year and intends to pursue criminal investigation as a career path.
Across the globe, international students such as Aayah Nuriddin are also turning to online schools. Aayah began attending International Connections Academy in 10th grade, after several years at an international school following her family’s move from the U.S. to Saudi Arabia. Though her parents wanted to raise the family in their home country, Aayah and her parents agreed it would benefit her long-term education goals to study an American curriculum. Online school has given her the flexibility to blend what she and her family agree are the best of both worlds for her education and growth, allowing her to become a global citizen now graduating from a U.S.-based school. She has participated in International Connections Academy’s honor societies, taken advantage of college and career guidance, and says she’s benefited from learning and working with teachers with different cultural backgrounds. Locally, Aayah works with younger students through her involvement with the English Honors Society of Shangri-La. Aayah has plans to study architectural engineering at Prince Sultan University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
While quality and flexibility are popular drivers, many types of students are opting for online school for all sorts of reasons: there are students who simply thrive better outside the traditional classroom, others are ahead or behind their peers academically, still more benefit from greater personalization. Educators agree that online school isn’t for every student and families interested should take the time to learn about their options. Information sessions are currently taking place in many states for parents and students interested in learning more about Connections Academy-supported online public school options. A full-time online private school is also available for families who live in states where a tuition-free public online option is not available.