Education is one of Alyssa's top priorities. She has one son who has been enrolled in Ohio Connections Academy for eight years.
e-School Learning Nowadays
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 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. When stuck in a less-than-desirable district, many parents seek out private or charter school options, and some will choose to homeschool their children.
Online Schools for Kids Are Growing in Popularity
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, such as flexibility, school quality, and—in recent months—safety concerns due to COVID-19. In fact, the coronavirus pandemic has driven renewed interest in online schools for kids across the United States.
For some, the idea of online public school is still a taboo topic, but for many families—including mine—it's an amazing benefit.
Why We Chose Connections Academy (Ohio)
Connections Academy is one of the leading e-schools available in the United States. My son started with Connections as a kindergartner in 2013. My husband and I place a high value on education, and we were faced with limited options in our local school district. This reinforced our decision to enroll our son in Connections. 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?
Connections Academy is an online public school for grades K–12. There is no tuition fee to attend, and it is offered in 29 states as of 2020. You can look up the current locations on the academy's website.
Is It Really Free?
Connections Academy is tuition-free, so you do not have to pay a school fee or an enrollment fee. The curriculum and many of the materials you will need are sent to you free of charge.
What About School Supply Costs?
You will need to pick up basic supplies like 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. I usually spend between $15 and $30 on supplies at the beginning of the year.
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.
Is It Accredited?
Connections Academy is accredited by Cognia (formerly known as AdvancED), and the individual schools also hold regional accreditation. For example, the Ohio Connections Academy that my son attends is accredited by the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement.
How Does It Work?
Connections gives your child a unique virtual classroom experience. After enrollment, both you and your child are given special login information. The lessons are planned out for you, and you can find them through both your student's login and your own. All course materials are sent to your house prior to the start of the school year.
Sample Course Material List
Depending on your child's grade level, the materials sent to you might include:
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- 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 paintbrushes
- A gym kit, including items such as a yoga DVD and a jump rope
Will My Child Have a Teacher?
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 or concerns, or if you need help with something.
Students are required to have contact with their teacher at least once every two weeks. This contact comes in the form of attending live lessons and making their monthly phone call.
What Is My Role as the Learning Coach?
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 schoolwork 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
Does the Learning Coach Have to Grade Tests?
No, the teachers grade assessments. Some assessments will have multiple-choice questions. Those are graded automatically, so you and your students will be able to see their grades immediately. When there are short answer questions, you won't see a final grade on the assessment until the teacher grades it. Connections Academy uses letter grades just like most brick and mortar schools do.
Does My Child Have to Attend Lessons at a Set Time?
Live lessons are an important aspect of Connections Academy. These are exactly what they sound like: live, virtual lessons 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 live meetings are important because the teachers will explain the concepts found in the lesson plans. They also give your child the opportunity to ask questions and engage with their classmates while learning.
Are the Live Lessons Mandatory?
Attendance requirements for live lessons will depend on your state and your child's grade level. 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.
Is the Schedule Flexible?
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. From Kindergarten to 4th grade, the students have live lessons in math and language arts. In Kindergarten, my son had two per week—one for math and one for 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 5th grade, students have math live lessons every day, language arts live lessons twice a week, writing once a week, and science once a week. My son did not attend every live lesson, and he did very well.
How Many Hours of School Are Required per Week?
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. Just as an example, my son needs to account for 27.5 hours each week, but this may differ in your area. How you mark and verify attendance will also vary.
What If the Curriculum Is Too Easy or Too Hard for My Student?
The curriculum is challenging, and there is room for expansion or modification as needed. For example, my son was half a year ahead in all his subjects for a while and is now a 7th grader doing 8th grade math. Students can work at their own pace, as long as they meet deadlines and due dates for projects and tests. There are opportunities for advanced classes, such as gifted and talented courses in subjects like ELA and math. There are also programs to help those students who are struggling.
Do Students Have to Participate in State Testing?
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.
How Does the School Prepare Students for Testing?
I think Connections does a great job of 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. The teachers are amazing at helping to prepare the students when testing time comes around.
There are also plenty of things that you (as the parent and learning coach) can do to help your student prepare. For example, the Ohio Department of Education has multiple practice tests on their website, and I had my son practice with them a few times a week while preparing for the 3rd grade state assessments.
Can Students Join Clubs?
Connections provides a wide range of online 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!
What About Sports?
Since Connections Academy is an online school, it does not offer sports. Some students are able to play sports in their home district, while other students participate in community or competitive leagues.
What Is a Typical Day Like for a Connections Academy Student?
Everyone's routine is different. Here's what ours looks like:
- We are early risers and like to get started in the morning, usually between 8 am and 9 am.
- 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 until we end our school day between 2 pm and 3 pm.
Our School Room
We have a separate room designated as our "school room." All of my son's school supplies and books, and his laptop, are in that room. In addition, I have a whiteboard on the wall where he can work out math problems or write spelling words. I also like to put up extra notes 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 with us 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.
How Do You Keep Your Child Focused on Schoolwork at Home?
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 a commitment to give 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 The 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 match the episodes with what he's learning in class.
How We Schedule Lessons and Activities
We don't have a set subject routine—sometimes we start with a language arts lesson, and 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 my son 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, and this includes online and offline activities.
He spends roughly 2.5 to 3.5 hours online each school day completing various lesson activities, quizzes, and tests, as well as attending live lessons. While that might seem like a lot of screen time, it isn't mindless scrolling through the deep-sea internet while staring at the computer.
Instead, 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 a 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.
The Benefits of Flexibility
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 and whether students have enough chances to interact with their peers. Connections Academy offers many opportunities for students to engage with their classmates, from the daily live lesson sessions and participation in clubs to school-sponsored field trips.
Field Trips and Family Meet-ups
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.
Support Groups for Families
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.
As mentioned above, there are many different online clubs that students can join to connect with fellow students who share their interests. These clubs are teacher-directed and emphasize collaborative projects to help students make new friends.
Although Connections Academy doesn't offer sports, many students participate in them outside of school. Joining a community or competitive league is another way for your child to socialize with their peers. Children who already participate in extracurricular activities with rigorous schedules, such as gymnastics, competition dance, or competitive ice skating, may find online schools to be a good choice due to the flexibility they offer. These students can complete their online schoolwork around the demands of their sports schedule.
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 still deadlines, and work must be completed.
Are You Prepared for the Time Commitment?
Keep in mind that 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.
The Hard Parts of Being a Parent and Learning Coach
These are some important factors to keep in mind about Connections that many people don't talk about.
- The adjustment isn't easy. 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.
- You need to be self-disciplined. 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 might get pushback from others. 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 5+ 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.
- It's important to seek out support. Make sure you seek out people who encourage and support your decision. I love meeting people who have homeschooled their children or who have enrolled their children in an online school, and I enjoy swapping stories with them. It's always uplifting to hear how successful their experiences have been and the amazing things their children have accomplished.
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Questions & Answers
Question: 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.
Answer: 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.
Question: To what extent can students at Connections Academy work at their own pace? Specifically, can they move faster through material they understand? Are there accelerated or enriched ELA and math classes at Connections Academy?
Answer: Students can work at their own pace, but there are deadlines and due dates for projects and tests. How fast your student can move through a course is going to vary from state to state. In Ohio, I've never had an issue with my son working ahead. In fact, he finished Kindergarten and started first grade in his first year of school. As he's gotten older, he has worked at his own pace and is now an entire year ahead in math. Connections does offer gifted and talented courses in various subjects, including ELA and math.
Question: Do you, the writer of this article, find the academic standards at Connections Academy rigorous? Do the teachers have high expectations of the students? I am frankly shocked by what our brick-and-mortar teachers are accepting from my son.
Answer: Yes absolutely! I think the curriculum is challenging and holds the students to a high standard. The teachers are wonderful and truly care about their students. My son has had many amazing teachers at Connections! He has always been able to ask questions and reach out with concerns.
Question: How much did it cost to enroll your kids?
Answer: Connections Academy is tuition-free. It didn't cost me anything to enroll my son. If you have enrollment questions, I recommend giving them a call. The customer support team has always been incredibly friendly and helpful!
International Connections Academy, however, is a private online school and does have tuition. I recommend giving them a call if you're interested in the private school option.
Question: Is Connections Academy accredited? also, do they have an actual, live graduation ceremony?
Answer: Yes, Connections Academy is accredited by AdvancedED. Check out their website for more information. As far as live graduation ceremonies go, I believe they do have them. I would definitely contact your state's school for more information regarding that specific question.
Question: 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?
Answer: 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.
Question: 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?
Answer: 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.
Question: How was the son of the writer of this article's 3rd grade year with the pressures of the state assessments?
Answer: 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.
Question: Is the high school curriculum designed to prepare for college?
Answer: Absolutely! Students also have the option for post-secondary classes as well. I recommend reaching out to your state's school to learn more.
Question: Are there any types of fees associated with Connections Academy?
Answer: 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.
Question: Upon completion of 12th grade do the students receive a diploma or GED?
Answer: Students receive a diploma. Connections Academy is an online public school for grades K-12.
Question: If I enroll before the new school year starts do I still have to send in letters to the state or contact the local school?
Answer: This is a question best suited for Connections Academy. I recommend giving them a call.
Question: Does Connections Academy pay for sports?
Answer: Connections Academy does not offer sports. It is an online school. Some students are able to play in their home district, other students participate in community or competition leagues.
Question: Does my child have to attend a public school before starting connections acadamy?
Answer: That depends on which state you are in. For Ohio, no.
Question: Do you know anything about how Connections Academy works for children on the autism spectrum? My son is high functioning, and we are considering this option for him and his 3rd-grade sister for this fall. She is not on the spectrum, so I know it would be more straightforward for her.
Answer: Connections could be a great fit for your son and he could really thrive, it honestly just depends on a variety of factors. I can't speak from direct experience, but from my Facebook groups and in conversations with other Connections parents, parents appreciate being more hands-on with their children's education. Connections offers support for a variety of learners and the curriculum is set up to appeal to as many kinds of learners as possible. If you are seriously considering Connections Academy for your children, I recommend joining the Connections Academy Learning Coaches Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/111569328946968 You would be able to connect with parents who are better able to answer your question. If you decide to join, please answer the three questions, and put that you are interested in potentially enrolling under the school question. It would also be a good idea to call your state's school to get a