With so much talk about virtual learning these days, you may be interested in gathering as much information as you can about online school as an option for your children. One of the most prominent local resources in this arena is the Georgia Cyber Academy (GCA), a web-based, tuition-free public charter school that serves students in kindergarten through high school. The academy offers a Title 1 educational program that is accredited by AdvancED and focused on providing a virtual, rigorous and data-driven learning environment. Here’s what GCA had to say when KNOWAtlanta Magazine asked for some insight into how it serves students.
Q: Why is virtual learning a good option for today’s students?
A: There are various reasons that make virtual education a good option for many families depending on their situation or preferences.Students at Georgia Cyber Academy receive individualized educational support and pacing to better meet them where they are on their personal learning paths. Virtual learning offers a more flexible option for them to be able to complete their education. Some families may want more control over their students’ educational environment, peers or outside influences for safety, faith-based or cultural reasons. Other parents want to be more involved in their children’s education, spend more time with them or develop a closer bond during the most impressionable years. There are really so many reasons why virtual learning may be a better fit than a more traditional educational setting.
Q: How does GCA design its curriculum for K-12 students?
A: Our team vets and researches curriculum and technological tools constantly in order to provide the most engaging educational experience possible. We start with a curriculum that meets or exceeds the Georgia Standards of Excellence and then look for tools that are the most engaging and provide the best educational outcomes for students. One advantage of a virtual environment is that we can change tools fairly quickly if a new or better tool or curriculum becomes available; we are not locked into a curriculum choice for three to five years. We can also add or delete based on the data received for a given grade level or subject.
Q: How do you help students adjust to the web-based learning model?
A: We have a team of nearly a hundred Family Success Liaisons that provide a touchstone for parents. They are there to facilitate communication, answer questions, provide advice and offer positive encouragement for families. They are essentially our families’ cheerleaders, and once assigned, they stay with the family throughout their tenure with GCA. This allows for closer relationships, provides for better student advocates and creates a sense of consistency from year to year. We also have developed Strong Start orientation modules for new students and Stay Strong modules for returning families. Our educational model is not static, so even our returning families benefit by going through the modules that we provide prior to the start of the new school year.
Q: How do you determine success for your students?
A: As a virtual school, we are very data driven and have many data points to rely on when determining student success. We administer assessments that measure student academic growth over a period of time and other tools that indicate mastery of standards at a given point in time. There are also the state Milestones assessments and end-of-the-year subject and course averages. We believe that at least three data points need to be available to accurately determine academic growth, mastery and proficiency. In the end, if a student improves and grows a full year or more in academic proficiency, then we have been successful in providing a strong academic foundation for that student. If, in addition to that, a student increases in confidence, develops a strong sense of self, finds their passion for learning, is kind and grows to be a positive contributor to society, then that is when we can say we have been truly successful.
Q: How do you build a feeling of community among your students?
A: That is something we work on constantly and probably is the most difficult area to address. We have virtual and in-person field trips, face-to-face events and outing days, virtual honors celebrations, lunch chats, virtual clubs, academic competitions and service learning projects. We are also exploring e-sports and may add this program in the years to come. Parents also connect with other parents through online forums organized by parent leaders. Through these communication channels, parents can plan meetups and events with other enrolled families.
Q: What sets GCA apart?
A: We are working to integrate the best of what a physical brick-and-mortar school provides with the flexibility and individualization that a virtual educational environment can offer. Despite economic circumstances, where a student resides, personal challenges and individual needs, students have the opportunity to close academic gaps, charge ahead of their peers, access advanced and technical courses and participate in dual enrollment and work-based learning programs from the comfort of their home. Quite simply, we provide completely equitable educational opportunities for all Georgia students.
For more information, visit georgiacyber.org.