Reviewing Your Families’ Academic Year: Will it be back to virtual school for yourself and your kids?

By J. Sparks – Redefining Traditional Project Team Member

As both a graduate student and a parent of school aged children, the beginning of summer marks the end of the school year for my whole family.  It’s a time when we all assess the academic year completed and make plans for the school year to come.  

A tablet with teaching materials on the screen, with tools like a note pad, coffee, pencils and more.

This year, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, my university shifted all of it’s classes online.  My children also became engaged in online public schooling.  After a year like no other, assessing what we have done and where we will go academically – as a family – has been a challenge. Out of necessity, we have all adapted to online learning and established new ways of connecting with our schools, communities, extended family and friends.   

For over a year now, my family has lived, worked and learned all together from home.  We have made virtual learning work for ourselves and for our children.  

It has been an adjustment.  It has not been easy.  We have survived.  We have succeeded. 

Thinking Ahead

Now as we assess and plan for ourselves and our children’s next academic year – I wonder if we will all be virtual learners again next year? This is a question my family has been struggling to answer.  At my university, the upcoming academic year is scheduled to resume with online classes. So for me and my studies, virtual learning it will be. 

However, my children have the option of enrolling in a fully online school or signing up for an in-person learning model. Looking at both options – online vs. in-person schooling – and making an informed choice has been a challenge.  Both models have their advantages and disadvantages. As a graduate student, when faced with a conundrum, I usually start looking for scholarly literature and data to help educate myself and understand both sides. 

An illustration of an online elementary school, with a computer ,profile of an individual, building blocks, drawing by children, and more.

Earlier this year, a local school board, after surveying students, parents, and staff reported that virtual learners were doing okay.  The school board reported that the majority of students were able to access their virtual classrooms, students felt that they had the right amount of online work, and, for the most part, students had adapted to online instruction.   

Anecdotal testimonies from others in our community have illustrated that parents and students, to the best of their abilities, had made virtual learning work for their families.  Some families reported preferring the stability of online instruction for their school aged children, in comparison to local in-person models that have had periodic closures and switches to remote learning in response to increases in local case counts.  For some parents, having their students engaged in online learning has been the best choice for their family in the face of COVID-19 related concerns. 
Conversely, academic perspectives and media accounts have warned of a dark side of online learning and highlighted examples of students and parents’ struggles with virtual schooling. 

A drawn question mark with lots of scribbles around it.

So whom should we believe? Are students enrolled in virtual schools coping or crashing?  And how do we as both students and parents make informed choices about schooling options for our children during this unprecedented time? 

Unfortunately, we still don’t know what lies ahead nor has the limited amount of information available enabled us to confidently predict what the outcome of either schooling option – online or in-person – maybe for both ourselves and our children as students. 

Through the process of assessing this academic year and planning for my own and my family’s upcoming school year, I have come to realize that the best choice for myself, my family, my informed choice, will be based on what has occurred this year in our home.   

As my family attempts to make informed choices regarding the upcoming school year, we will all – as individuals and as family members – reflect on our mental wellbeing, physical health, learning outcomes and lifestyle.  As parents and students, we often have to make hard choices – especially in the face of so many unknowns and when the choices we must make affect the ones we love the most. 

Perhaps the best thing we can all do, in planning for the next academic year and choosing schooling options – is what we usually do as both students and parents – the best we can! 

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