By Lon Anderson
It looks like many of Hardy County’s students will be working from home this year, but few will actually be “home schooling.” Because of the coronavirus sweeping our nation, when the Hardy County School System opens for classes this year, many of its students will be part of its “virtual school,” taking some or all of their classes at home via their computers.
Based upon recent comments to the Examiner about the Board of Education stories discussing both home schooling, and the online virtual school program that the Hardy County School System is offering students, there is some confusion.
“Home schooling” is a specific term that refers to children who are not in the school system and are being taught at home, usually by their parents, according to Jodie Strawbridge, who coordinates the County’s home schooling program for the school system. In Hardy County currently, there are 70 families with a total of 113 students who are being “home schooled,” she explained.
On the other hand, we have about 650 students in the school system, so far, who have signed up to take virtual school classes online instead of in classrooms. The online classes are being taught by local teachers with the students participating via computers that the school system is providing to students who will largely be studying from their homes.
To make this system work, the Hardy County School Board has recently contracted with Apple Computers to provide students with individual computers. Younger students will be provided iPads and the older students will receive MacBook Pro laptops. All of the computers are being leased.[private]
Hardy County School System students this fall will have choices and can choose to physically attend some or all of their classes, or attend some and take others online through the virtual school, or take all of their classes that way. In the virtual school, explained County Superintendent Sheena Van Meter, “We provide our teachers with the materials, the curriculum and the online platform. They can modify it, and add videos, but we provide the baseline.” In other words, it’s an extension of Hardy County’s schools with its teachers and content, but delivered differently.
Meanwhile, home school students will also have choices, according to Strawderman. “As a home schooler, students can participate in some of our virtual school classes, but on a limited basis.” Or, home school students can also “take courses in-house”—that is in the schools.
While the school system tracks the progress of the home school students, Strawderman noted, home schoolers are not a part of the Hardy County School system, are not enrolled in it, and will not receive a diploma from the school system when they graduate.
So why do some parents choose to home school? According to Kiersten Barr, a Hardy County resident who has home schooled her two kids, for her “home schooling is all about building relationships. When they go to schools, they are away from you every day, and also separated from their siblings. With home school, they are with you and their siblings every day. And you can tailor the education to your kids’ needs.”
Barr, who has been a teacher in the Hardy County Schools and has a graduate degree in education with a concentration in mathematics, has two children. Her daughter just graduated as class salutatorian from Moorefield High School, after being home schooled until eighth grade. Her son is going to be in eighth grade this fall and is still being home schooled. Because of her education background, she said, she especially wanted to play a role in her children’s education.
“Every kid is different — and home schooling, it’s not for everyone,” she continued. “That’s why we have choices.” Barr noted that home schooling does require more discipline and ability to work independently.
“You can go to the state website to see what the curriculum is for each grade, and the subjects required. It’s amazing how much online support there is for home schoolers. There are Home School conventions (and conferences) that offer access to huge markets that support home schooling.”
“The term ‘home schooling’ is almost a misnomer,” Barr continued. “It sounds like we are home alone all of the time, but we’re not isolated. We have groups that do things together; we call it a co-op. I might offer the group some activities in mathematics, and a biologist might take them to a stream. We had a rocketry co-op class that met weekly where they learned about rocketry, built a rocket and launched it.”
But there is a major similarity between the home school students and the County school students who enroll in virtual classes. According to Van Meter, the virtual school classes, “do require a lot of focus, time management and self-management. And especially for younger students, virtual school classes are going to require parents to monitor and be very involved in their child’s education. Home school parents are already very good at this,” she noted, “but it will be something new for our virtual students and their parents.”
That said, Van Meter emphasized that virtual school and home school are two entirely different options. She also noted that there is a virtual school handbook available on the County Schools’ website. In addition, students choosing to participate in the County’s virtual school, will have to participate in an orientation program with their parents
So, now you know: All students who study at home are not home schoolers, but no matter, they can all be good students receiving excellent educations.[/private]