By: Tillie Elvrum
My family has always been a family “on the move” due to my husband’s Air Force and corporate careers. We have never lived in any state longer than 5 years, so we’ve called many places home, and as President of PublicSchoolOptions.org I’ve had the privilege to return to many of the places my family has called home. Last week, I was blessed to return to Ohio to celebrate Online Learning Day with e-school families, teachers, administrators, legislators, and school choice supporters.
The day was sponsored by the Ohio e-schools Families and Friends Coalition, the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and the Ohio Council of Community Schools. Families filled the atrium of the historic Ohio statehouse for a day of advocacy. Several e-school graduates, teachers, and parents shared why online learning was so important to them. I was honored to speak to attendees about my family’s school choice story and to talk with them about their own advocacy.
The best part of the day was talking one-on-one with students and parents. Each family had their own unique story about why they had chosen their school and why online learning was making a difference in their lives. One e-school mom, Annie Harbert, took the time to share a bit with me about her family’s experience:
Can you tell me about your family and your prior education experiences?
I am a mother of three. Two of my children are traditionally homeschooled and one, my oldest son Michael, is 15 years old and a freshmen at Ohio Virtual Academy. Michael attended public school from pre-k until the second grade. During his time in public school he struggled academically due to his Dyslexia. At that time, I knew very little about his learning difference and, to my regret, when he was recommended by his teachers and school administrators to be placed in a special education program, I agreed. Little did we know that this decision would set Michael on the course towards heartache and more academic struggle. My son was (and still is) very bright. He had even tested in the ‘gifted’ range for science, but because he was in a special education class with other students who had serious physical, mental, and other struggles, he began to view his Dyslexia not as a “Learning Difference” but as a “Learning Disability.” And we never wanted our son to think of himself as incapable of ever learning.
In 2010, after a meeting with teachers and staff, I was told they could not remediate him in the subject of reading and to not rule out the possibility of medication for his inattentiveness. When I spoke of his Dyslexia, I was told by his special education teacher, “Dyslexia does not exist. All children will eventually know that a ‘B’ looks like a ‘B.'” We then knew it was time to take Michael’s education into our own hands. A few months later, I resigned from my HR position and pulled my son from public school to traditionally homeschool him.
Why did you eventually choose online learning for Michael?
Michael has very specific career goals: to be a Computer Software Engineer. His academic needs began surpassing my ability to continue to traditionally homeschool him. I knew he would need a strong, high-school level, academic foundation coupled with an Individual Learning Plan (ILP) to put him on the right course to making his career goals happen after graduation. So when Michael entered into Ohio Virtual Academy in January 2015, he began to thrive academically. With his computer and a quiet learning space, Michael is able to learn at his own pace without the distractions, pressure, and time constraints that a brick and mortar school can impose upon a Dyslexic student.
Any time he has a question, needs instructions clarified, etc., his teachers are always willing to help and are prompt with their responses. The team who worked with me in crafting his ILP last year listened to our concerns regarding his academic struggles and put into place a plan that has enabled Michael to truly excel. We could not be happier with our decision to enroll our son in OHVA.
What would you do if your family lost the option to educate your child using the online model?
It would be a huge detriment to Michael’s education and his career goals should the option to choose how our son is educated be taken away. In this case, our clear choice is an online school model. The structure OHVA provides, the wonderful teachers who engage my son daily over the computer, and the rigorous curriculum would be sorely missed. Education is not a ‘one size fits all’ model. I cannot simply place my son back into a brick and mortar school and expect the same level of care that OHVA has given him. Michael is one of many successful examples of how e-schooling can give a student the opportunity to thrive academically.
Thanks to Annie and Michael for sharing their story – these are the stories that inspire me in my advocacy and I carry each one with me as I work on behalf of PublicSchoolOptions.org. Thank you to everyone who made Ohio’s Online Learning Day a success and see you next time!