Cyber schooling provides flexibility, accountability for Coweta family
By: Rebecca Leftwich
May 20, 2012
Five-year-old David Johnson’s school days begin like those of many other kindergarters: Get up and eat breakfast, check. Make bed, check. Get dressed, check.
School comes next for David, but that’s where his day sharply differs from that of other public school students. Instead of catching the bus or a carpool ride, David simply walks into his living room where his mom, Casey, facilitates his lessons through Georgia Cyber Academy.
David is one of 94 Coweta County students currently enrolled in the online public charter school, which uses K12 curriculum to meet Georgia education standards. GCA serves 10,000 students statewide as a tuition-free alternative to traditional brick-and-mortar public schools.
Arlington Christian School
Johnson’s husband is an airline pilot and the couple, also parents to 4-year-old Summer Grace, recently moved to Newnan from Mississippi. A former classroom teacher, Johnson began considering homeschooling because of the dismal academic reputation of Mississippi schools.
”A lot of our friends homeschooled and had positive experiences,” Johnson said. “We moved to Newnan right before the school year started and had no problem with the public schools here, but we had just started getting excited about the idea of homeschooling by then.”
Although GCA students are educated primarily at home, they are public school students who learn virtually, not homeschooled students. Georgia homeschoolers, while required to meet attendance mandates, are not subject to curriculum approval or mandated yearly standardized testing by the state, while GCA students are required to meet certain standards and benchmarks through approved curriculum, to complete standardized testing and to stay in compliance with attendance requirements.
However, the flexibility provided by virtual learning is similar to that of homeschooling.
”David has always been a child who met milestones on his own timeline,” Johnson said. “He can do it on his own pace. The flexibility is wonderful, and I’m glad we have the freedom to educate the way we see fit.”
Still, with David coming out of a regular preschool and Johnson’s teaching experience of the classroom variety, the year has had its challenges for the family.
”There have been some hard days,” Johnson said. “He was frustrated, I was frustrated, and I thought it wouldn’t work. But we just caught our breath and tried again. And the second half of the year has been much better.”
Summer Grace attends preschool part-time, but when she is at home, Johnson plans David’s lessons around her participation. Her days as a teacher allow her to plan fun activities to go along with what the pair is studying, like pairing a difficult subject with a game involving movement, building Lego castles while mom reads a story about knights, or building Australia’s Uluru rock formation out of Play-Doh.
”My hope is that he will enjoy what he’s learning and pursue his interests,” Johnson said. “I want him to love learning, not think of it as a chore.”
The family also appreciates traveling to see friends and relatives without waiting for a school break or concentrating on service projects.
”We work with Seven Bridges Mission in Atlanta,” Johnson said. “We take our kids with us to teach them God isn’t just in church, that he wants us to love other people even though they don’t look like we do or smell like we do or act like we do.”
Being a part of Eagle’s Nest, a large homeschool organization in Coweta County, allows David to interact socially and Johnson to seek counsel from other parent faciliators with years of experience, encouraging her to work through the hard days.
”You could do it alone, I guess, but I really enjoy being able to get out and meet other people who are on this journey as well,” she said.
The Johnsons plan to re-evaluate each year, but for now, Johnson said, virtual learning is something she can see as a long-term option because she knows GCA and K12 will “hopefully keep us on track with the public schools.”
But it’s the time spent with her children, having the privilege of being there for the lightbulb moment when an idea clicks, that Johnson said she appreciates most.
”The best part is when we’ve been doing something and hitting a wall, and then it’s David who brings it up later,” Johnson said. “You know then that it did sink in, and that’s so gratifying. I love being able to do school on the couch, or go outside on a beautiful day and do math with chalk on the driveway, or give him a kiss when he reads a book really well. It’s a labor of love.”