“When I tuck my children into bed each night and take the laptops off their beds, I see that they were recently looking at Civil War photos on the National Archives website, playing with a pyramid maze on the British Museum website, or translating their names into hieroglyphs,” says Kelly Gutensohn, a parent of ten Florida Virtual School (FLVS) students ranging from five to 28.
Gutensohn enrolled her students in FLVS after dabbling in home education and traditional public and private schools. “A lot of these alternatives were good, but none offered everything we needed,” she recalls. “We needed record keeping, daily lesson plans, feedback, expert instructors, and the freedom to be family, working wherever and whenever we needed.”
Some parents may hesitate to enroll students in online programs and worry that their students may not receive the feedback, face-to-face time, or interaction needed to be successful in their coursework and later in life.
“We entered the program with no preconceived ideas and, in fact, a lot of skepticism,” says Gutensohn. “At first it felt like I was dropping my children’s education into the ‘black hole’ of the Internet. Is it possible that they could actually receive a quality education through the wireless router in our house?”
Gutensohn recalls that the first few weeks required some adjustments with hands-on support from parents and teachers. FLVS teachers provide daily feedback and interaction over the Internet and on the phone. In addition, teachers conduct monthly phone calls with parents in order to discuss how each student is progressing in the course.
Gutensohn says, “We don’t see the teachers face-to-face in FLVS, but we talk to them regularly. With this much involvement, students thrive.” FLVS instructors are available for extended hours from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. weekdays via phone, email, and text messaging.
The management and flexibility of online courses allows students to schedule their own studying and instruction time, but still has proven to challenge Gutensohn’s children. “The classes have not been easy and the instructors have not been pushovers,” says Gutensohn. “But the classes have been interesting and creative. The instructors have been available and enthusiastic.”
“It all boils down to mastery,” says Gutensohn. “The children work at their own pace and submit assignments until they completely master the subject matter. In all of my experience with schools, including my own or my children’s’ experiences, I have never had so much interaction with teachers as I have had with FLVS.”
“The instructors are a vital part of acquiring mastery. FLVS teachers are amazing and consistently display a desire for the student to succeed,” says Gutensohn. “The amount of time that the students spend talking to adult teachers has given my children confidence in talking to adults in other situations.”
Her daughter, Rachel, who works at Universal Studios, has been promoted multiple times and even invited to lunch with the CEO. Gutensohn says her interaction and communication with FLVS teachers taught her to speak politely and intelligently with adults.
Online programs also give students a great deal of flexibility. This has made it possible for Gutensohn’s children to do schoolwork from anywhere, anytime. “They have turned in assignments at midnight as often as they have turned them in during the daylight hours,” says Gutensohn. “We have done schoolwork at the beach, at home, in a hotel, in bookstores, in libraries, and even at Universal Studios.”
Gutensohns says parents who are considering enrolling their students in FLVS or other online programs in the United States should jump in with two feet because the programs offer so much flexibility, opportunity, personalized learning, and individual feedback.
“FLVS gives them a love of learning, which they will carry with them throughout life,” says Gutensohn, “and to me that is success.”