By Angelique Smith
When my daughter developed bad allergies and asthma, my husband and I realized she needed to be educated at home. We just didn't feel comfortable sending her to a traditional school, where we would have to depend upon a nurse to administer her medication.
Looking for educational alternatives, we discovered cyber charter schools. Now, our 6-year-old is in kindergarten, where she is studying second-grade math and first-grade language arts, history and art. She is even learning to speak Spanish.
My husband, Ira, and I received top-notch Catholic-school educations while growing up in Chester City during the 1980s, but we were astounded at the types of educational material offered through cyber charter schools.
Our daughter's school is Agora Cyber Charter School in Philadelphia. It uses a curriculum company, K12 Inc., based in Herndon, Va., that meets Pennsylvania state standards.
K12 Inc. keeps on top of changes and incorporates them into the curriculum. For example, this year, when Pluto was demoted to a dwarf planet, K12 updated its status online. This may seem like a small thing, but it could take years for a brick-and-mortar school to be able to afford new textbooks containing this information.
We believe all U.S. children deserve first-rate, up-to-date educations so they can compete with the rest of the world.
Our daughter is passionate about learning and looks forward to going to school in her pajamas. She is not just memorizing facts, she is demonstrating applied knowledge. As her primary instructor, I know all her strengths and weaknesses. Our daughter will never be left behind.
She can demonstrate fractions by dividing circles, squares, rectangles and, sometimes, triangles. We even order pizza uncut on Friday nights; everything is a learning opportunity in our home.
Our daughter can tell time to the half-hour and quarter-hour. She is able to count money. (We are now learning to make change.) She can easily regroup when adding three-digit numbers. However, we are still mastering subtraction.
She writes short stories with a beginning, middle and end. She can explain in detail why Columbus' discovery of America was a geographical mistake, and locate all seven continents on a map. At the ripe old age of 5 she declared that Henri Matisse was her favorite artist, although she now has taken a liking to Vincent van Gogh.
Imagine our excitement when our daughter reaches for a book rather than a TV remote. Don't all parents want this?
Cyber-schooling is a journey for us. It is not for everyone and it takes a tremendous amount of dedication and discipline for both parent and child. After my daughter goes to bed, I am up late reviewing materials and preparing for the next day's lessons.
If House Bill 446 is passed and funding is cut for cyber schools, many of the 13,000 children being cyberschooled will have to return to traditional schooling. This could create problems in already overcrowded schools.
We help to alleviate the burden on teachers who find their classrooms already at capacity. Our students also get only part of the funding the school districts spend per student. This creates a surplus that remains in the district, and there is one less student to teach in each classroom.
We have the same accountability, if not more, than other public schools. For kindergarten, we need to log at least five hours a day of study; my family logs more than six. Parents need to sign an agreement with the school to follow the rules, log attendance, keep our children's work current, frequently send student work samples, attend online sessions, and conference with a state-certified teacher at least once a month.
Parents of cyber-schoolers actually are held to a higher level of accountability than parents whose children attend traditional schools. How many other public schools require this level of commitment? As for the school board members who complain about their money going to cyberschools, let me remind everyone that we are taxpayers, too. These are our tax dollars.
Until America's public education system receives its much-needed overhaul, there will be a need for cyber-schools. Throughout history, many people have fought change, and this is no different. It is time that our school boards and politicians stopped talking about educational problems and playing the blame game regarding funding.