By Sandeep Thomas
Choice is a basic fiber of Western Civilization. Today, a growing number of students and parents when given a choice are leaning towards virtual learning experiences rather than the more traditional options. As a graduate of an online public school and a current member of the class of 2014 at the University of Washington, I have spent some time reflecting on the ways I benefited from having the option to attend an online school and the unique ways it prepared me for college.
I struggled throughout my school life in the brick and mortar environment (public and private) because I had experienced PTSD due to severe trauma in childhood. My parents chose to educate me through a virtual public high school because it had a high quality curriculum with structure and strong parent-teacher support built into the system. At first, the thought of sitting in front of a computer to do school work seemed unthinkable. Although I did not initially see the benefits at the time, in hindsight I attribute a huge part of my success today to this innovative mode of learning. Virtual education can benefit students across the broad spectrum of academic abilities. To some this personalized education may be used to “catch up” with the learning curve. To others it might be used as a gateway to high achievement, enabling them to excel far beyond the controlled environment of the brick and mortar school system. Clearly it can help any student as a spring board for future career success.
I built skills in the online environment essential to college life. Everything from school meetings, writing papers, doing research, and giving presentations, was intertwined with modern technology. An intriguing world of learning opened up for me where I could read e-text books, watch videos, attend lectures and be involved in group discussions online. Since my schedule was not controlled by the ring of a bell, I had the opportunity to learn the life skills of prioritizing tasks and time management early in life. My flexible school schedule gave me the advantage of being able to work part time, allowing me to interact with adults on a professional level. Also, my leadership, public speaking, organization, and event planning skills, were developed through my involvement in various school clubs. This built my confidence and transformed me from a struggling student into a confident leader.
College requires maturity and independence of its students. Freshman year in college is generally a hard transition from the controlled high school environment of a brick and mortar school to a more independent open environment. The life skills I had developed during my virtual school years served me well in that transition. Today I am a junior at University of Washington while working part time at Wells Fargo Bank. I also am a national advocate for adoption and virtual education and a youth mentor. I largely attribute my success to my excellent virtual public education and strongly urge state leaders and elected officials across the country to do all that they can to support this innovative learning option so every student can benefit from the opportunities that I had.
Sandeep Thomas is a graduate of the Insight School of Washington and is currently a junior at the University of Washington. He serves as a Student Team member of PublicSchoolOptions.org, a national alliance of parents, students and teachers that supports and defends parents’ rights to access the best public school options for their children.