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It has been a wild roller coaster of a year for American parents, not least those with school-age children. As vaccination efforts ramp up all over the country, the hope of students returning to “school” and “normalcy” this fall also rises. However, “school” and “normalcy” have taken on different meanings since last Spring. Gone are the uniforms, carpool lines, or after-school activities; the mention of a typical school day may now bring to mind pajamas, Zoom meetings, and unlimited trips to the refrigerator. If this is our new “normal”, is it here to stay? Most will say “no”, but some may wish for a resounding “yes”.
In a recent survey conducted at Alabama Virtual Academy at Eufaula City Schools (ALVA), I asked families who transitioned from Brick-and-Mortar schools to online learning due to the Pandemic to list “pros and cons” of both education modes. Most importantly, will they return to B&M this fall, why, and why not? As a longtime School Choice Advocate, the results confirmed what I have always believed: Parents like having options, both virtual and in-person.
“We LOVE the flexibility! I can’t see us ever leaving now.” – Jennifer
“It would have been easier If I didn’t have to manage multiple children. My daughter is going back [to B&M].” – Sarah
“My daughter is a cancer survivor, so this is the safest option for us, even before the pandemic.” - Heather
“Having the whole family home 24/7 is hard! My daughter is adamant about not going back [to B&M]. I’m not so sure.” - Laura
Upon the one-year anniversary of COVID-19, many are lamenting the “lost year of education” for the American children. The jury is still out on whether this is warranted. No doubt many students suffered academically and emotionally, especially those in poorer districts and students of color. Yet the year is not wasted for all. The majority of parents who responded to the ALVA survey affirmed the effectiveness of their children’s learning. What the kids do miss, are social interaction with their peers and after school activities.
It is worth noting that students enrolled at ALVA have a distinct advantage over many others who were forced to take classes online during the pandemic. ALVA is a dedicated virtual school established on a model that is both sustainable and intentional. From its inception, it is designed to be a unique education path different from traditional Brick and Mortar. While many schools struggled with moving classes online, ALVA and many of its compatriot virtual schools quietly carried on without missing a beat. Virtual students all over the country steadily continued in their daily schooling with zero disruption.
The picture is much bleaker for the schools forced into “emergency online learning”. Suffering from lack of resources and pressed for time, teachers and students made do with what they could. The parents, too, were frazzled in their effort to help their children adapt; while struggling with increased family care, unexpected financial loss, and silent depression. Families who chose ALVA, however, found a school ready and open to take them under its wings. With the help from experienced teachers and administrators, students and parents quickly adjusted to their new online learning platform. Virtual schools had years, not months, to develop its ecosystem and improve it over time. Award-winning curriculum, research-based pedagogy, advanced technology infrastructure, highly trained teachers, dedicated learning coaches – all working together to ensure a successful online learning experience for the young minds across the state of Alabama, right from individual living rooms.
The vast majority of American families were exposed to online learning for the first time during the pandemic. Some have found its appeal while others swear to never do it again. This affirms the School Choice movement’s long-held belief – “No one size fits all. Parents need options.”
How the tables have turned for virtual schools. According to a report published in 2019 by National Education Policy Center, “in 2017-18, 501 full-time virtual schools enrolled 297,712 students, and 300 blended schools enrolled 132,960.” During the same period, more than 50 million students enrolled in public schools in the US.  Despite experiencing tremendous growth in recently years, Virtual and Blended students comprised just over 0.08% of the K-12 population up until 2020. For years, the American public and policy makers have paid little attention to the online learning community in K-12 education. Then the pandemic hit, and virtual schools became the norm. Through a year of chaotic remote learning, we may have finally gained sympathy for those at the fringe – if we don’t like to be forced into only one mode of learning, should anyone ever be?
Despite suffering monumental set back from disruptions to their pre-pandemic normal school life, many parents and students are emerging from the crisis with better understanding of school options available to them and are now taking steps to shape their unique education paths. We need to ensure those options always stay open.
Board of Directors
National Coalition for Public School Options
 Edwards-Luce, A., Pakulis, A., Baldari, C.. Fitzgerald, C., Towner, C., Sasner, C., Sacco, K., Dallafior, M., Abaya, M., Gomez, O. (2020). Key Stats on the Effect of COVID-19 on Kids. First Focus on Children. Retrieved [3/14/2021] from https://firstfocus.org/resources/key-stats-on-the-effect-of-covid-19-on-kids
 Molnar, A., Miron, G., Elgeberi, N., Barbour, M.K., Huerta, L., Shafer, S.R., Rice, J.K. (2019). Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2019. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center. Retrieved [3/13/2021] from http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/virtual-schools-annual-2019