Written by Jessica Schuler
Liz Williams is the mother of six children who range in age from 7 to 19 – yet she has never had to pack a lunch, rush the kids out the door to catch the school bus or discipline them for getting detention in class.
All six Williams children – Jacob (19), Bethany (16), Elijah (15), Trinity (10), Charity (9) and Selah (7) – are virtual students.
After homeschooling their oldest son, Jacob, for his first year of school, the Williamses discovered online schooling and never looked back. They used several different virtual programs while living in Ohio, but when the family moved to Wyoming four years ago, the children enrolled at Wyoming Virtual Academy (WYVA) and couldn’t be happier.
“When we moved to Wyoming, we knew we wanted to continue utilizing an online charter school so I could continue teaching the children at home while still having the accountability the online schools offer,” said Liz, who serves as the learning coach for all of her children. “When we compared WYVA to the other options available in Wyoming, we preferred WYVA’s curriculum – it fit our high standards for education for our children and looked as though it would continue to challenge them academically.”
The Williamses originally intended to enroll Jacob – an advanced learner who was already reading chapter books – in a brick and mortar school for kindergarten, but they were concerned he wouldn’t be evaluated properly.
“Once we started down the path of teaching our children at home, it just fit so well that we never thought of sending any of them to brick and mortar schools,” Liz said. “I enjoy having them home with me; they do really well in the home learning setting and we prefer the reduced amount of peer pressure and all that comes with it in ‘regular school.’”
Liz says that all of her children are “quite proficient academically” and have benefitted from WYVA’s rigorous curriculum. Jacob, now junior at the University of Wyoming, was WYVA’s valedictorian in 2014.
“The academic curriculum challenges our children,” she said. “That was a huge reason we chose to enroll with WYVA. The K12 curriculum offers a vast variety of subject matter and delves deep into the concepts being taught. I was blown away by the depth of instruction offered at the lower grades in history, art and music especially. The literature and phonics were also quite challenging and helped our children develop a great base for reading. Now all six are avid readers and consistently test well above grade level, especially in reading.”
Bethany, the second-oldest Williams sibling, is a junior at WYVA. She says that when she is having trouble grasping a particular concept, her teachers are always willing to help. Her younger brother, Elijah, who is also in 11th grade, added, “The teachers make time in their schedules to work with their students – one-on-one if they have to – just to make sure you succeed.”
Liz is also appreciative of the “fabulous” WYVA staff, noting that most respond to an email the same day it was sent and are quick to alert her if any of her children’s assignments are missing.
“The one-on-one sessions in the younger grades are nice also, because it allows the teachers to give direct attention if there is an area in which a student is struggling,” she added.
Additionally, two of the younger Williams girls – fifth-grader Trinity and second-grader Selah – have Type 1 Diabetes, and Liz is grateful of how accommodating their teachers have been.
“Too high or low blood sugars can greatly impact their ability to concentrate, focus, and therefore learn,” she said. “They acknowledge when a low or high blood sugar is impacting their performance and the teachers allow for time to either make up a session or quit early to allow the girls to treat their hypoglycemia.”
WYVA also provides Liz with peace of mind when it comes to caring for the girls’ condition because she is able to personally monitor their blood sugars and prepare their meals rather than relying on school staff who may not be properly trained.
“We have heard horror stories of students in brick and mortar schools where teachers and staff are not well-trained or comfortable with the day-to-day treatment of Type 1 Diabetes and children suffer as a result,” she said. “In addition, nighttime is often hard with Type 1 Diabetes – high or low blood sugars result in interrupted sleep which can make it difficult to be ‘on your A game’ for school the next day. Since we use a virtual school, I can allow the girls to sleep in rather than being up early to catch the bus.”
Liz believes that in addition to class content, WYVA has taught her children many life skills that will benefit them as they grow older, from how to use technology – “My older children have a better working knowledge of computers than I do!” she said – to intangibles like independence, confidence and work ethic.
“I believe online learning when done appropriately instills great work ethic,” she said. “They learn to get their work done on time and they also learn to seek out answers more on their own. I honestly believe it’s helped all of our children be greater lovers of learning.”
Bethany and Elijah both emphasize how virtual school has helped them learn to stick to a schedule and stay on top of deadlines.
“I used to be terrible at managing time,” Bethany said. “If you don’t get your work in on time, you may be docked points. You have to be willing to put in the time and effort to hold yourself accountable. Since enrolling in WYVA, I’ve learned to be a more dependable and motivated person and a harder worker.”
“You have to learn self-control to keep working on your school work even if you’re feeling distracted,” Elijah added.
Liz has also watched Bethany’s confidence soar since enrolling in WYVA. Bethany admits that she used to be nervous when speaking to new people and dreaded standing up and talking in front of a group, but her WYVA teachers have helped her overcome her fear with encouragement and reassurance, and she is now president of WYVA’s Music Club and National Honors Society.
“Speaking in front of her peers and running meetings has greatly improved her confidence when it comes to speaking in front of people,” Liz said. “She uses humor, she speaks clearly and she highlights important information without rambling. All of this has evolved as she’s gone through virtual school.”
“I’m more sure of myself, and I now can speak to people without sounding nervous – in fact, the last time I spoke in public I received quite a few compliments,” Bethany added. “WYVA has helped me become the person I am now. It’s a challenging school, but that only added to my determination to do my best.”