For Florida families, this new school year brings with it more choices than ever for selecting the school — and setting — that best meets the individual needs of their child.
The educational landscape is constantly evolving. But this school year is marked by broader options for virtual learning than perhaps ever before and an increasing emphasis on early career training and trade certifications for middle and high schoolers.
The brick-and-mortar school model serves many students well; however, every student has an individual learning style — and each family has different commitments. Online schools allow enrolled students to learn at their own pace from the comfort and safety of their home. Students can study at home or wherever there’s an internet connection. This eliminates the need for long commutes, leaving more time for learning, family commitments and other interests.
For some students, this represents a chance to learn in the setting that is most productive and supportive for them. Maybe they want to get a jump-start on future technical/trade careers with career certifications. For others — for instance, students with physical or mental health challenges or intellectual and developmental disabilities, or immunocompromised students — online school opens up opportunities that simply would not be possible within a traditional classroom.
For example, Digital Academy of Florida is a K-12 school with extensive academic resources and support for all students, including those with special needs. The school offers parents the ability to be a key partner in their child’s education by supporting their child’s unique learning from home. With attentive teachers and supportive staff, the school seeks to create a partnership with each family to ensure every child reaches his or her full potential.
The school, part of the Hendry school district but enrolling over 6,000 students statewide, provides career pathways for all students in grades seven through 12. These pathways include business entrepreneurship, digital media, multimedia design, computer systems and information technology, game design and simulation programming, hospitality and tourism management, and medical laboratory assisting/phlebotomy.
Last year, Digital Academy of Florida saw their students earn over 1,000 industry certifications. Of their 390 graduates, almost 40% are going directly into high-demand, well-paying trade or industry careers. Digital Academy middle schooler Arizona Snedden of Hillsborough took first place against 6,000 other students at the Business Professionals of America National Leadership Conference, a highly competitive event held in Anaheim, California, last spring.
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Because virtual schools are, by definition, technology-enabled, they can also better equip students to thrive in the digital age. The tools and platforms students utilize in online schools often provide them with a digital fluency that surpasses that of their peers — something that will serve them well in higher education and work.
As thousands of families in Tampa Bay and across Florida prepare for a new school year, the online classroom represents a dynamic and innovative alternative for today’s learners.
Laura Downes is director of schools at Digital Academy of Florida.