When Santa Rosa Beach sisters Zoe and River McBride get up to go to school, they don't have to go far. In fact, they don't even have to leave their house.
The McBride sisters aren’t home-schooled, but instead are part of the hundreds of thousands of Florida students enrolled in virtual school at Connections Academy.
The family of six has a busy schedule — Zoe and River take piano and ballet lessons respectively — virtual school not only offered flexibility, but has helped encourage both girls’ dream careers. Zoe, in fifth grade, is enrolled in a Julliard music class as well as piano and guitar lessons. One day, she hopes to become an actor.
“It gives us time to do different things than if we were in a brick and mortar school,” she said.
River, in seventh grade, is torn between fashion design and ballet. Through virtual school, she’s taking graphic design classes. Because she can pace herself on classes, she can juggle the five-plus hours she dedicates to ballet every week.
"Students enrolled in Florida Virtual School are truly able to have an educational option that is personalized to their academic needs," said Marcie Trombino, elementary school principal for Florida Virtual School, which partners with Connections Academy. "Each student has an individualized learning plan that is tailored to their strengths, interests, and areas of growth."
Virtual school is classified as a free, public school. Although different from the typical classroom, virtual school has all of the same requirements — FCAT, end of the year exams and even P.E. It also gives parents an all-access pass to their child’s education.
“I have my own login and calendar that shows when they have a test or a portfolio due,” said mother, Lisa McBride. “I even have to check off that their work is done before they can turn it in.”
Lisa and her husband, Geoff, like all parents, have always played active roles in their children’s education — they have four in total with Hunter, in second grade, and 10-month-old Zuri. Deciding on virtual school was an easy one, said Lisa.
“It really fit a balance of what we were looking for,” she said.
"As an administrator and an online teacher, I have witnessed firsthand the positive effects that Florida Virtual School has had on families," Trombino added. "Our students are able to progress and master skills at their own pace and form positive, lasting relationships with their teachers."
As a singer/songwriter, virtual school would’ve benefited a young Geoff when he was in school.
“It would have allowed me to branch out a bit more and be more productive,” he said. “The school gives kids the chance to grow in different areas.”
As an artist, Geoff was impressed by the detail of the classes. In River's art class, she's working on an entire project about the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.
Virtual school not only offers an array of classes, but because students are able to pace themselves, they have the freedom to take breaks when needed and work ahead when they have the time.
"If you get stuck on a math problem, you can take a break and go outside," Geoff said.
Second-grader Hunter has flown through his schooling, said Geoff.
"He gets bored, but he loves to build and create things," he said. "That's another great thing about virtual school, you get to see the kid's strengths."
Zoe and River got to share their experiences with Connections Academy recently during a panel at the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) conference in Los Angeles. The sisters were chosen by Connections Academy co-founder, Mickey Revenaugh, out of thousands of students who are enrolled in 23 states.
For more information about Florida virtual schools, visit www.flvsft.com.
"It's pretty amazing," said Lisa. "And it's great to get the idea about virtual school out to other educational conferences. It helps fulfill dreams."