An Honest and In-Depth Review of Connections Academy
Education is important. In today's society, you would be hard-pressed to find a good paying job without a college degree, trade school certificate, or a technical skill.
As a parent, one of the biggest concerns is making sure your child is getting a quality education. Before buying a house, it's important and common to research school districts. If stuck in a less than desirable one, many parents seek out private or charter school options, and some will choose a home-school option.
Online classes have been a popular choice among college students for over ten years, but now that option has expanded into the elementary, middle, and high school realm. More families are seeking out e-school options for their children's education than ever before for a variety of reasons. For some, this is a taboo topic, but for many families, online public school is an amazing benefit.
Connections Academy is one of the leading e-schools available in the United States. My son started with Connections as a kindergartener in 2013. Placing a high value on education and faced with limited options when it came to our local school district, reinforced my husband's and my decision to enroll our son in Connections. Five years later, it remains one of the best decisions we've ever made.
Over the years, we've had many people ask questions about Connections Academy. They are curious to know what it is, how it works, and how we like it. Below I've addressed the most common questions we get and outlined what a typical day looks like for us. In addition, I've included some important factors to keep in mind before making the decision to enroll your child in Connections.
What is Connections Academy and How Does It Work?
Connections Academy is an online public school for grades K-12. There is no tuition fee to attend and it is currently offered in 28 states.
Connections gives your child a unique, virtual classroom experience. After enrollment, you and your child are given special log in information. All course materials are sent to your house prior to the start of the school year. Depending on your child's grade level, this includes:
- Text books
- Manipulatives for math, such as base ten blocks and fraction strips
- Science tools, such as goggles, magnets, and a thermometer
- An art kit, including items such as drawing paper, construction paper, and paint brushes
- A gym kit, including items such as a yoga DVD and jump rope
The lessons are planned out for you, and found on both your student's log in, as well as your own. As the parent, you are your child's learning coach, unless you designate that responsibility to someone else, such as a grandparent or hired tutor. Your responsibility as a learning coach is to assist your child with their daily lessons. How much time you spend with your child doing school work depends on several factors:
- Grade level
- How independent your child is
- If your child has special needs
- If you are transferring from a brick and mortar school
Your child will be assigned a homeroom teacher. Every month, your teacher will give you a call and check in on how things are going. The teacher will give you important updates, answer any questions and concerns you might have, and chat with your student to make sure he or she is on track. The teachers can also be reached by telephone or webmail anytime you or your student have questions, concerns, or need help with something.
Live lessons are an important aspect of Connections Academy. The name is exactly what it is: a live lesson with the teacher for all the students in your child's grade. The subjects for live lessons vary by grade level, but for elementary students, there are live lesson sessions for math and language arts. These sessions last between 30 minutes to an hour. These are important because the teachers are explaining the concepts found in the lesson plans. It gives your child the opportunity to ask questions and engage with their classmates while learning. Attendance requirements for live lessons will depend on your state and child's grade level.
Each state sets laws for attendance requirements. How many hours of school time your child needs to have each week will depend on your state. How you mark and verify attendance will also vary.
Because Connections Academy is a public school, students are required to complete state testing. This is done at a separate location, under the guidance of certified teachers.
Connections also provides a wide range of clubs for students to join. These include, but are not limited to:
- Arts and crafts club
- Math club
- Robotics club
- Chess club
- Movie club
- Sports club
- Gaming and Technology club
- Music club
- And so many more!
A Typical Day
Everyone's routine is different. We are early risers and like to get started in the morning, usually between 8 am and 9 am, and end our school day between 2 pm and 3 pm. I have a strict technology and TV policy: my son is not allowed to have his phone or play any video games until after school. In addition, he must earn them each day by showing up to class with a good attitude, a willingness to learn, and by giving his best effort in all his subjects. As for TV, if he is up early, he is only allowed to watch educational programming before school. Usually it's Magic School Bus or Bill Nye the Science Guy. He loves it because it's fun and gives him time to wake up. I love it because I can coincide the episodes with what he's learning in class.
We have a separate room designated as our "school room." All of his school supplies, books, and his laptop are in that room. In addition, I have a white board on the wall where he can work out math problems or write spelling words. I also like to put extra notes up that he can copy down. I have a few educational and inspirational posters hung up, a huge vintage world map, a calendar, and plenty of space on two desks for him to complete school work. We spend a good chunk of our day in this room completing lessons, however, the beauty of being at home is that we can take school anywhere. We often head to the kitchen or go outside for science experiments, art class, and gym. In addition, there are times when my son enjoys doing his book work at the kitchen counter while I get a few household chores completed. Because we get started with school early, we like to take a break for a snack or lunch between 10 am and 11 am. Afterward, it's right back to learning.
We don't have a set subject routine, sometimes we start with a language arts lesson, other days we'll begin with social studies. We like to mix it up. Often the subject schedule will depend on what the lesson requires or what live lessons he needs to attend for that day.
The school week for Ohio Connections Academy runs Monday through Sunday. Each week, my son needs to have 27.5 hours of educational activity accounted for, this includes online and offline activities. He spends roughly 2.5 to 3.5 hours online each school day completing various lesson activities, quizzes, tests, and attending live lessons. While that might seem like a lot of screen time, it isn't mindless scrolling through the deep-sea internet, just staring at the computer. He is actively engaging in his virtual classroom, reading through what each lesson requires, completing any book work activities, taking notes, and listening to what I add to each lesson. Alternatively, he might be engaging with his teacher and classmates in live lesson, taking notes and answering questions.
The rest of his day is composed of other educational activities, such as reading, writing, physical activity, hands-on learning activities, going more in-depth on concepts learned within his lessons, exploring other topics of interest, etc.
Because Connections is an online school, we can be flexible with our school schedule. My son does not have to attend school Monday through Friday. He is able to take days off during the week and attend school on the weekends. This is a wonderful benefit, especially for families who have non-traditional work schedules or children who participate in competitive sports. We work my son's school schedule around my husband's work schedule to optimize family time and give us the freedom to take trips away from home.
But What About Socialization?
This is the biggest question I get about Connections. People are always concerned about socialization. Connections Academy offers many opportunities for students to engage with their classmates, from daily live lesson sessions and participation in clubs, to school-sponsored field trips. Each state is a little different, but in Ohio, we've had school-wide field trips to some pretty awesome places:
- The Bob Evans Farm
- Wright-Patterson Air Force Museum
- The Cleveland Zoo
- The University of Toledo Planetarium and The Marietta Planetarium
- The King Arts Complex
Every year, we have a back to school family mixer at various parks around our state. This is an opportunity for families to meet each other and connect. Building these relationships is a great way to make friends, find a support system, and plan future meet-ups.
Connections Academy also has private Facebook groups for learning coaches to join, where they can find additional support and connect with other families in their area. This is a great resource for planning extra field trips or meet-ups.
The flexibility of an online school also allows students to get their school work done while participating in special extra-curricular activities, such as gymnastics, competition dance, or competitive ice-skating.
There are plenty of opportunities for students to socialize with their peers while enrolled in Connections Academy.
How to Determine If Connections Is Right For Your Family
Connections Academy is a great option, but it isn't for everyone. In order to succeed, you must be organized and disciplined. While there is flexibility when it comes to scheduling, there are deadlines and work must be completed. Keep in mind, it can be time consuming. You can't simply set your child in front of the computer and expect him or her to learn, especially when you first begin. As the parent and learning coach, you are there to help your child with his or her lessons, guiding him or her through the activities, helping to reinforce concepts, adding in bits of information, and answering questions as they arise. If your child is in the elementary years, you should be there most, if not all, of the time, gradually helping him or her become more independent. As your child gets older, he or she will develop more independence and you may only need to pop in to make sure he or she is staying on task or to answer questions. Remember, this is your child's education. By enrolling in Connections Academy, you are taking charge of that responsibility.
Factors to Keep In Mind
These are some important factors to keep in mind about Connections that many people don't talk about.
- It takes time to find your groove and patience is a must as you and your child adjust. My son started Connections in Kindergarten, so the biggest adjustment for him was having a chunk of his day dedicated to learning. If your child is transferring to Connections from a brick and mortar school, there is going to be an adjustment period as you navigate this new environment. There is suddenly a lot of freedom and flexibility allowed in your schedule, so you have to find what works for you and your child. Getting organized and staying disciplined is key to success. Take advantage of the resources available and don't hesitate to reach out to your teacher with questions and concerns.
- You may encounter negativity from friends, family members, neighbors, co-workers, or complete strangers about your decision to enroll your child in an online school. This is common. The idea of an online K-12 school is still a new concept that many people don't know a lot about. Even after five years of my son doing online school, we still get pushback. I've found the best thing to do is to be willing to answer questions about the school and talk about how well your child is doing. At the end of the day, you are the parent and you know what's best for your child. In addition, it's important to seek out people who encourage and support your decision. I love meeting people who have home-schooled their children or who have enrolled their children in an online school and swapping stories. It's always uplifting to hear how successful their experiences have been and the amazing things their children have accomplished.
Questions & Answers
Are the live classes through Connections Academy everyday? We have done K12 online before but there are so many live classes Monday through Friday, plus the other online work each day. It is overwhelming and NOT flexible.
I have friends and have talked to other parents, who have enrolled their students in K12 and they have complained about this same issue.
I can't speak for all the Connections Academies, as different states vary in laws and requirements, but I can tell you that Ohio Connections Academy is very flexible when it comes to live lessons, at least at the elementary level. (My son will be entering middle school this year.) From Kindergarten to 4th grade, the students have math and language arts live lessons. In Kindergarten, my son had two a week -- one math and one language arts. As he got older the number increased.. by 4th grade, he had math live lessons every day and language arts live lessons twice a week. In Ohio, live lessons are not mandatory, but students are encouraged to attend as many as possible. The live lessons are always recorded so if your student misses a live lesson, he or she can watch the recording when time allows. In 5th grade, students have math live lessons every day, language arts live lessons twice a week, with a writing live lesson once a week, and science once a week. Students are required to have contact with their teacher at least once every two weeks, this comes in the form of attending live lessons and their monthly phone call. I have found Ohio Connections Academy to be extremely flexible. My son did not attend every live lesson and he did very well. We also have a nontraditional school schedule. My son does school work Friday - Tuesday and has Wednesdays and Thursdays off. We've had this schedule for five years and it has never been an issue.Helpful 25
Are there any types of fees associated with Connections Academy?
This is a good question. Connections Academy is tuition-free, so you do not have to pay a school fee. The curriculum and many of the materials you will need are sent to you free of charge. You will need to pick up basic supplies.. notebooks, pencils, pens, loose-leaf paper, etc. It's always nice to have extra art supplies on hand and I highly recommend a dry-erase board. Throughout the year, you might need to pick up a few extra items for special projects, like bean seeds or poster board. You will also need internet access and a computer. Some schools offer laptops, but that's something you will need to look into for your state-specific Connections Academy.Helpful 5
I have enrolled my children for the next school year in Connections Academy. They will be in 4th and 7th grades. My question is about grading assignments: do the learning coaches grade assignments/tests/quizzes, or do the teachers?
The teachers grade assessments. Some will have multiple choice questions. Those are graded automatically, you and your students will be able to see their grade immediately. When there are short answer questions, you won't see a final grade on the assessment until the teacher grades it.Helpful 11
How was the son of the writer of this article's 3rd grade year with the pressures of the state assessments?
It was tough, but he had the support of an amazing teacher and we worked hard to get him ready to tackle the test. Preparation is key and getting him acclimated and comfortable with the testing format really helped. The Ohio Dept. of Education has multiple practice tests on their website and I had him practice a few times a week. Since then, Connections has changed the format of their assessments to be more aligned with the testing format. This really helps get students comfortable with how it works and what to expect so they can be confident going into the test. It's important for them to understand that this is an opportunity for them to show what they know.. something I stress to my son. He is not big into tests and dreads the whole ordeal, but he knows that this is something he has to do and that this is his chance to show what he has learned throughout the year. The best part of the third grade assessments is that the kids have two main chances to pass, which is important because this is their first year experiencing state testing. There is also an option to take the test over the summer if needed. I think Connections does a great job preparing the students for state assessments without overdoing it. It's not all about teaching to the test, it's about actually learning throughout the year, getting a good education, and then having the opportunity to showcase that knowledge for the state. Again, the teachers are amazing at helping prepare the students when testing time comes around and there are plenty of things you can do as the parent and learning coach to help your student as well. I'm actually going to be writing another article about this next month -- how to prepare your student for state testing. With all that said, keep in mind that 3rd grade is a big year, both for traditional brick and mortar school as well as online schools. The lessons go more in-depth, the kids are becoming a little more independent in their studies, and more is expected of them academically. I hope this answered your question and gave you a little more insight. Keep an eye out for my next article with tips on how to prepare your student for state testing and please don't hesitate to reach out if you have more questions.Helpful 10
I just enrolled my daughter into Connections this semester and we are still trying to get the hang of it. Her motivation and accountability are the biggest problems. Do you have any further suggestions?
It's difficult to give specific tips about motivation and accountability because it really depends on grade level and individual preferences. The transition is tough. It takes time to get used to a new format, the freedom of being at home, and figuring out a schedule that works. Patience, a sense of humor, and time are important. Stick with it, and you will find your groove. I highly recommend checking out Learning Coach Central. It's an amazing resource! They have live lessons for us learning coaches, to answer questions and help navigate this new environment. Check that out. They have sessions on Thursday (2/13) If you haven't done so already, I also highly recommend that you join our Connections Academy Learning Coaches Group on Facebook. This is a national group for parents and learning coaches only. It's a great source of support and encouragement. When you request, please answer the three questions. It not only helps speed up the approval process, but also ensures that we only have CA LC's and parents in our group. I hoped this helped a little bit.Helpful 9
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