This Wednesday, Tom Vander Ark, students, teachers, and parents testified in front of the Ohio House of Representatives’ Education Committee in support of digital learning. Four students wowed the audience with their stories while several teachers and parents stood in strong support of students learning digitally today. Below are the testimonies of two teachers and two parents:

Testimony of Teachers in Support of Digital Learning

Jessica Hussey, Ohio Connections Academy

Chairman Stebelton, Vice-Chairman Newbold, and Ranking Member Luckie:

Hello.  My name is Jessica Hussey. I am a 6th and 7th grade math teacher at Ohio Connections Academy, a virtual K-12 school, with a current enrollment of about 3200 (1045 ES, 896 MS, 1232 HS; 3172 exactly) students state-wide.

I was invited here tonight to offer my perspective as a teacher who uses digital learning for instruction.  Before I start however, I just want to thank you for hosting us and giving us this opportunity to share our stories with you.

If you had asked me 6 years ago, when I finished up my Masters in Education, if I wanted to teach online, I would have given you a resounding NO!

I didn’t know anything about online schools – I knew they were becoming more and more popular, but I couldn’t figure out how a child could get a good, quality education, not to mention the socialization they needed, by sitting in front of a computer, rather than be being in a classroom interacting with a teacher and their peers.

I had just graduated and was embarking on my third, and final, career.  I tried out manufacturing and non-profit, but I wanted to make a real difference.  I LOVE kids, and I knew that if I became a teacher, I could help not only educate them, but also inspire them to be their BEST selves. And I knew that modeling positive behaviors and attitudes, in the classroom, would be a great place to start.

I also had all kinds of new and exciting ideas about effectively managing a classroom, writing relevant, purposeful curriculum, and implementing engaging, experiential lessons… I wanted to create a safe, loving learning environment, where ALL my students could thrive and where I could see that “aha!” moment on their faces, when they finally “got it.”  The idea of not being in a physical CLASSROOM…not having any kids?! … Well, why would I even want to teach?!

Obviously, I’ve seen the LIGHT!  Here I am, two years later, speaking to you on why this works and why you should provide MORE students with MORE opportunities, like the ones that OUR students have every day.

For me, teaching is a PASSION.  I selfishly get up every day and think about all the opportunities I will have to interact and work with my students.   I LOVE working with a student one-on-one to help him or her master a math skill.  I enjoy brainstorming ideas with a Learning Coach as to how she can use Legos to motivate and engage her son, who has autism.  I also cherish the freedom and encouragement I get from my administration to work with my fellow teachers to come up with better, more effective ways of teaching.

Students, parents, Learning Coaches, teachers, and administrators…we are all PARTNERS in this virtual world.  We talk, plan and strategize as a TEAM to figure out the needs of each student, and consequently, the best way to address those needs.  I actually feel that here, in this learning environment, I am able to meet MORE needs and impact my students and families on a MUCH deeper level, than I was ever able to in a brick and mortar school.  Thank you so much for your time.

Jennifer Easley, Winton Woods Academy of Global Studies

Chairman Stebelton, Vice-Chairman Newbold, and Ranking Member Luckie:

My name is Jennifer Easley.  I am 9th grade physical science teacher at the Academy of Global Studies @ Winton Woods High School which is located in Forest Park, a suburb in Northern Cincinnati.  This is my 7th year in teaching.  With me today are our administrator Dr. Terri Holden and our district Director of Technology, Rhonda Hobbs.  Our school is a school within a school which focuses on teaching 21st century skills through a global perspective.  For me, teaching is a second career.  My bachelor’s degree is in geology with a minor in comprehensive science, prior to teaching I was a youth minister.  In order to become a teacher, I needed to return to school.  Fortunately for me, many universities offered the classes that I needed online.  I was able to continue working, while taking the classes that I needed for teacher certification.   Online classes that helped me become a teacher were offered through Wright State University in Dayton and Miami University in Oxford.  To supplement these I also attended classes at a local branch campus.

The experiences I had both as an online student and as a campus bound student, made me realize that many of our students are not prepared for the realities of higher learning institutions today.  Simply the task of learning to navigate the Blackboard system which is the educational online system that is used to register, post class assignments, and participate in online discussions put me behind oth.er students.

The students that I have today at the Academy of Global Studies, will not have this same challenge.   We are part of the New Tech Network and the International Studies Schools Network.  The New Tech Network is a non-profit organization that supports project-based learning, technological skills, and a culture of respect, responsibility, and trust.  The International Studies School Network strives to increase academic performance while challenging students to become equipped to live and work in a global environment.  These two organizations are working together in our school to provide students with the skills they need to become productive, global citizens.

Through the New Tech Network, we are able to access a digital learning platform called ECHO.  This platform allows me to search for teaching resources, post homework and classroom assignments, and make grades accessible immediately to students and parents.  I can link to videos, virtual labs, and simulations, as well as our online textbook.  The possibilities for my classroom have dramatically increased, but the best part is that my students use a digital platform daily to check classwork, submit work and communicate with me and with each other.  They will be prepared for our state universities in ways that other students are not.

At our school, students work together in groups.  They are able to use software like Google docs, where they can all work on the same document at the same time. They are becoming proficient in all types of software like Word, PowerPoint, Prezi.  They create educational animations, multimedia presentations, and videos.

One of the myths that I often hear is that today’s students are already technologically proficient.  I was surprised how many of my students are not proficient when it comes to the educational use of computers.  I will agree that many of them are technologically savvy with smart phones and computers, but for many of my students, their primary use of technology has been for entertainment and socialization.  They have struggled when it comes to simple things such as saving a document so that they can find it later.  Those Google docs, PowerPoints, and animations did not happen without much time and effort, but my students have stuck with it.   In the midst of learning science, my students have begun to become critical thinkers and problem solvers.  I don’t even think that my students have realized that they are changing, but I see them reaching for phones and computers more as tools than as entertainment.

I wish that you could see the difference in my students from August until now.   They are becoming better students.  They are able to use technology more effectively to find reputable information and to communicate those findings to each other as well as other students around the world.  They work beyond the 9th grade textbook that we have often accessing information at junior, senior or even college levels.  We are a digital learning community where students are helping students, teachers helping students, and often students are helping teachers.  Together through technology we are learning more.

Thank you for this opportunity to share how digital learning inspires and motivates my students and me as we prepared them to become knowledgeable and equipped citizens of the 21st century.

Testimony of Parents in Support of Digital Learning

Valerie Dortch, Virtual Community School

Chairman Stebelton, Vice-Chairman Newbold, and Ranking Member Luckie:

Hello.  My name is Valerie Dortch. I am here today to tell a little about Michael and my experience with an E-school named VCS.  And why I think every person should have a choice to pick an E-school for their child.  I have a son named Michael. He is multi handicapped. I took him out of Columbus City schools and enrolled him in Virtual Community School of Ohio VCS for short. He was violated by another student while at school. So I found out about VCS. The special needs department was a God send. It was just what Michael needed. He was safe at home I did not have to worry about him getting picked on by other students. The teachers at VCS were very good and they all worked with me to help Michael. In their view it was all about what Michael needed. Which made me very happy. Michael really has come a long way from the time he started at VCS in 2006. Some of the things he has learned how to do is as follows:  The days of the week, talking on the phone, doing work on the computer.  Just to name a few. Michael is Autistic and the things I mentioned are major steps for him.  I just wanted to say that in my view the E-school is for those students that need that special something that only the online environment can give.  My rating for the online schools is an A for the overall value that comes from the experience of what Michael received.  Michael will be walking across the stage with the rest of the VCS students this coming May. This is another good thing that most special needs students do not get to do.  Thanks for listening. 

Cathy Bryan, Ohio Virtual Academy

Chairman Stebelton, Vice-Chairman Newbold, and Ranking Member Luckie:

My name is Cathy Bryan and we are in our 9th year as an e-school family.  We made the choice for learning-style issues, but it’s become a life-style for us.

In kindergarten, Beavercreek Schools diagnosed my son with a severe auditory processing deficiency and an IQ of around 76.  We saw his gifts, but they only saw the challenge.

In 2002, Dr Cheri Florance of the OSU Brain Clinic did additional testing for visual processing, which showed Sam’s IQ was in the 160 range!  She “re-wired” his brain to build auditory skills, and we were armed with the knowledge that our son was very bright, but learned very differently from most other kids.

Auditory processing is about the ability to understand language, and reading, writing, speaking, and listening are all language-dependent.  Sam thought in pictures and movies, and we had to teach him language.

Traditional classrooms didn’t fit Sam’s learning style for 4 reasons:

  • Visuals are the best teachers for other visuals
  • Most teachers are auditory learners
  • I had been tested and I was also a visual learner
  • I was already re-teaching everything he learned in school each day

About this time, we discovered Ohio Virtual Academy: a public online school with licensed teachers which would allow me to deliver the curriculum to him in a way he could understand…perfect!  We enrolled Sam in 3rd grade and his sister, Taylor, in kindergarten.  Taylor immediately flourished, and we were able to bring Sam’s language skills up to grade level within a few years.

So here we are, 9 years later, and it’s no longer a learning-style choice for us.  We figured out that e-schooling is a pretty good life-style!  We only spend 5-6 hours/day on school, including homework.  That has allowed us time to do so many other things.

  • We started our own hiking club and logged 2500 miles with a bunch of other kids
  • We’ve visited DC, Valley Forge, Mexico, the Grand Canyon, Disney World, and Grandma & Grandpa in Texas, all off-season when it’s not crowded.
  • Sam achieved Eagle Scout rank at the age of 16.  He also started his own business to fund his Eagle project.
  • Taylor spends about 15 hrs/week on competitive dance and also does historical re-enactments at Carillon Park in Dayton.
  • Both kids have developed leadership skills through 4-H and both are good public speakers. They are equally comfortable around adults and kids.
  • Sam writes articles and makes videos for the student newspaper, started an online prayer group with over 100 members, and is Secretary of Student Council.
  • Taylor is in 8th grade, but OHVA decided to let her enroll in high school algebra and English.  No special arrangements, not a big deal…just the flip of a switch and she’s taking classes that meet her ability.

To end, my mom is a retired elementary teacher from Beavercreek who also served on their curriculum committee.  Mom questioned our judgment at first, but after working with the K12 curriculum, she says it’s the best she’s ever seen.  She also saw kids in her classroom, like Sam, who grow into their intelligence later, but by that time their self-image isn’t very good.  She has said Sam would not be the self-confident leader he is today if he had spent the last 9 years in a traditional classroom.  Mom is now our biggest advocate for school choice, and especially, e-school learning.

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