Lisa Spinelli's picture

Online Instruction Fosters Deep Connection for OHVA Teacher

Heather Petersen, 40, always wanted to be a teacher. When she was a little girl she’d have her siblings and cousins pretend to be her students as she instructed them on her own chalkboard.

Today, after 16 years of teaching, Heather’s love for teaching children continues, just in a less traditional method than using chalk on a board. A teacher with Ohio Virtual Academy (OHVA), Heather has been with the school for 13 years.

“I really do enjoy a lot about it,” Heather said about her long-time career with online teaching. “I really liked being home when my children were little so I could run them to preschool and just be able to have that time and relationship with them working from home.”

Heather started her teaching career in a Christian school in Toledo until a charter school came in and took over. She then took a position with the public school system, where she taught for several years as a second grade teacher.

Heather, who has six children of her own, was a victim of budgetary cuts within the struggling public school system and left at home with a new baby and a lot of anxiety about how she was going to help provide for her burgeoning family. That’s when she saw job openings at the Ohio Virtual Academy.

“I am an anxious person so I was getting worried about how we were going to pay our bills,” Heather said. “Finding OHVA was really a blessing.”

Recognizing her gift for teaching, OHVA offered Heather a teacher position and she quickly accepted. The position has been a perfect fit for her both personally and professionally.

Heather now teaches iSupport for first graders who are struggling with their reading and writing. What Heather especially loves is the unique format the online schooling offers so she can tailor her lessons to each child’s individual needs.

“One little boy was very hesitant to work with us, but I knew Batman was really his thing. So after getting a lot of pushback, I went to Walmart and bought a Batman mask. In a breakout room, I put it on and told him, ‘Read to me!’ and I didn’t necessarily get the exact results I wanted to, but from then on he was much more relaxed and works with me more with not nearly as much pushback,” Heather said.

Jeff Kwitowski's picture

Charter Schools Get Berned

At a recent Democratic town hall Presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders, was asked about charter schools.  His answer set off a flurry of press releases, statements, and op-eds from charter school leaders across the country trying to set the record straight. Senator Sanders said:

“I believe in public in public education, and I believe in public charter schools.  I do not believe in private – privately controlled charter schools.”

Writing in U.S. News & World Report, Sara Mead said that Senator Sanders’ comment “provoked umbrage from charter school advocates, glee from charter critics, perplexity from journalists, and indifference from people who don’t closely follow education debates.”

Nina Rees with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools said she was “disappointed that Senator Sanders continues to be confused about the tax status of charter schools since it is legally impossible to run a for-profit charter school in this country.” (A statement that itself is not entirely accurate.  California, for example, has some charter schools that operate as LLCs.)

Nonetheless, Sanders comments and the firestorm it created, shows how important it is to get the facts right about charter schools, their tax statuses, and the legal and structural differences between governance and management.  Nonprofit charter schools may contract with vendors just as school districts regularly contract with private, for-profit providers; however contracting with private providers does not change a school’s nonprofit tax status, nor does it mean they are no longer public schools.

Wendy Oleksinski's picture

Innovative Lessons and Learning in the Online Classroom

How are students learning in a virtual setting?

Many parents may ask this question when considering online education for their children. Simply put, students learn by becoming engaged in the content.

Two of my colleagues, who are talented second grade teachers at Georgia Cyber Academy (GCA), Joy Knight and Danyelle Lynch, demonstrate how student engagement comes to life in the online classroom.

Although students may differ in abilities, Joy, who taught for four years in a brick-and-mortar setting before coming to GCA two years ago, claims, “We know that students all have one thing in common – they must be engaged for optimal learning.  Our desire for each class is to grab the students’ attention, make them feel like valued contributors, and enable them to dig deeply into a topic so they can make connections.” 

The two teachers recently taught a class on grammatical contractions and wanted to incorporate a “contraction surgery” activity they saw on Pinterest. A contraction surgery involves cutting apart words and bandaging new words (or contractions) together. Joy and Danyelle decided to go ahead with the activity and adjust it for an online class. 

Photo: Courtesy Wendy Oleksinski
Joy Knight, First Grade Teacher

Danyelle, a teacher of 18 years, explains, “Joy entered the classroom virtually as “Dr. Knight” -- dressed in scrubs and a mask!  The kids were immediately drawn into the lesson and remained engaged throughout, which was exactly what we wanted.” 

For Joy and Danyelle, it is not about how many slides they cover in an online class session, instead, students will find lots of conversation and sharing during any one of their classes.

“This (co-teaching method) results in many connections being made that might otherwise be missed,” says Joy.  

Victoria Bannon's picture

New Skills, Bright Futures at Destinations Career Academy of Wisconsin

“Studies have shown that by 2020, two out of three jobs will require some postsecondary education or training and that job-related skills can dramatically increase employment options for new graduates,” shares CEO of K12 Inc. Stuart J. Udell. Many of these jobs are in fields that do not necessarily require a college degree. With so many more students going to college, there is more competition than ever to get these jobs.

So how to get an edge over these students and prepare those that may not be college bound for the working world?

Victoria Bannon's picture

Music Artist Thrives In Online School

“I was raised around music my entire life – my dad was a singer and a writer and my mother was a dancer that traveled the world on tours with artists.” This influence is readily apparent in the ambitions of young Chelsi Smith, whose stage name is Tyeler Reign. Smith is a student at Academy of Arts and Sciences: Thousand Oaks Simi Valley -- a Fuel Education partner school -- who balances 9th grade with her burgeoning music career.

Smith shares that one of best parts about being an online learner is how much time it allows for her to pursue her career. “The brick and mortar schools didn’t understand me and my schedule.”

Through online learning, however, she has found a home.

“I can get my work done whenever and wherever I want,” Smith enthuses. This allows her plenty of time for “artist development” and time to hone her musicality.

Smith’s music teacher, Mrs. Rebecca Lopez, has been a major influence both musically and academically to Reign.

“My music teacher Mrs. Lopez is amazing -- she has actually taken an interest in me and what I do she allowed me to share more of my world with her which has helped me flourish with her class work.  We had a rocky start but Mrs. Lopez has become my favorite teacher ever. She allows me to be me and add my personal experiences to my class work! “  

The flexibility of online learning has allowed the young artist a chance to get her education and pursue her career. Smith says that a big goal for her is to “finish school early” so she can focus on her music career even more. This ambitious young lady’s dreams don’t stop at the classroom, however. When asked where she would like to be in a decade, Reign immediately came up with a very comprehensive list, making it clear that she is obviously thinking about her future.

“10 years from now I will be 24 years old and I would like to have achieved some of my long term goals. I would like to be finishing my third world tour, hopefully be cast in a Broadway play, received at least eight Grammy’s, and have a clothing line.  I’d also really like to create a new program in the inner city for kids to have a place to go and explore the arts!“   

These are no idle dreams. So far, Smith has filmed five music videos and plans to shoot six more in the next few months. She will also be filming a reality TV pilot this summer.

But that doesn’t mean that she’s skipping out on post-secondary education – Smith shares that college is a “non-negotiable” in her family.