My thoughts on Georgia Cyber Academy
After fifteen years of homeschooling, my children and I tried something new this year. I enrolled four of them in Georgia Cyber Academy. For those of you who may not be familiar with GCA it is a public charter school. I had several reasons that led me to this decision, and in hindsight, the Lord was more involved in leading me in this direction than I realized. He met several needs my children and I had using GCA.
I wanted to get a good feel for the program before I posted. I was planning on waiting until I completed the school year. However, nine weeks away from the end I think I now have a good idea of how it works, so I thought I would go ahead and post my review because some may be considering GCA as an option for the next school year. I want to give as much detail about what I liked and did not like, so hopefully those looking into the program can make an informed decision. I have found there are all kinds of opinions going around about GCA and thought that maybe my experience could help clarify questions people might have.
We just finished our third term with Georgia Cyber and only have one more to go. My children are in 8th, 6th, 4th and 2nd grade. Before you read the post I will let you know upfront that I pulled my two middle schoolers out for the last term. It really does not have anything to do with not liking GCA it has more to do with trying to plan a wedding, taking the ballerina to auditions, preacher daddy being out-of-town, and balancing several other things. My two younger children are still enrolled and will finish out the year. Middle School in GCA is flexible to some extent, but not nearly as flexible as elementary, which I will cover further down in the post.
I will admit I was a little hesitant when I first enrolled, I wondered how I would like working with a teacher when I had been the teacher for so many years. I was not sure how intrusive they would be, or if they would look down on my kids because they had been homeschoolers. What I found was exactly the opposite. Since I had four children enrolled, each of my children had a homeroom teacher as well as a Math, Social Studies, Science and LA teacher. This sounds like a lot, but really all your contact about your child is done through one teacher, the homeroom teacher. Your homeroom teacher will also be one of the other subject area teachers. I write all this to say with four enrolled, I kind of have a good feel for many of the GCA teachers. Everyone I met was fabulous. No one was too intrusive, or judgmental. They call about once a term to see if you or your child have any questions and make sure the student is progressing, as they should, so that they will finish the year on time. Unless, I contacted them I never had personal contact. When I did contact them, they were great about getting back to me in a reasonable amount of time. The teachers’ main form of communication is through email, which they call Kmail, and is located within your personal GCA page. I also wanted to add that when I requested to withdraw my two older students for this upcoming term it was received well by the teachers. They were very kind and gracious, and the withdrawal process has been very smooth. Many of these teachers are moms like you and me who want to be home more with their own children, but still use their gifts to teach others. There were even a few times during Class Connect sessions I heard a preschooler in the background. It did my heart good. :)
I know public school at home scares many homeschoolers and many don’t like that it is as an option at all, early on, I was a little skeptical about it, too. I decided if I was truly for school choice then I would embrace it as another great option for parents to use to educate their children. Public charter schools are also great avenues for those who want to homeschool, but don’t yet have the confidence that they can do it on their own. It is a great bridge from regular public school to homeschooling. On a side note preacher daddy and I had the privilege of being in a documentary dealing with education in the state of Georgia called Making the Grade. It was lots of fun and my children thought it was great that they were in a movie. :)
Now a little info on how it actually works. Because GCA is a public school, they have to teach the standards adopted by the state. I have to say I was rather impressed with most of the standards and how GCA handled teaching them. GCA uses the K12 curriculum, which I found to be wonderful. What they do is go through the K12 curriculum as if it was a textbook, and pulled out the lessons that correlate with the state standards. They use what they called Class Connect sessions that I think in middle school are fabulous, but in elementary are not really necessary, but sometimes fun for the kids to go to especially if they need extra help on a concept. It is also great for moms teaching several children in the fact that during one student’s class connect time you can work with your other children one on one.
Class Connects use blackboard collaborate to bring the teacher to your student. They hold class, the teacher teaches the concept to the students, and they in turn can interact by chat, polling, and writing on the wall, video or speaker. It is fabulous technology. My older girls really felt like they knew their teacher and the other kids in the class. I also found through Class Connect there are many wonderful Christian families involved in GCA. Another great advantage to Class Connect sessions is that they are recorded, so you can watch them any time during the day. On Monday’s two of my children go to drama in the mornings and miss the live class, but they can easily come home, watch the session in the afternoon, and get their work done. Some children actually prefer the recorded session that way they can fast forward or slow down if necessary. In middle school Class Connect sessions are not normally mandatory, but strongly encouraged. If you do GCA without Class Connects for middle school, it can be done, but your child may not be on the same concept as those attending CC, and when custom assessment (bi-weekly quizzes) comes around it might be a bit difficult. Most of my girls teachers also sent the full power point presentation they used in the Class Connect, so that if you could not attend the class, or see the recording you could at least glance over the presentation to see what was covered. The only time I know of teachers requiring Class Connect sessions is when a student is performing poorly in a subject and the teacher felt that CC sessions would be a benefit to them, even then they could still watch the recorded sessions.
One negative I have seen mentioned by a few others about GCA is the amount of work required. Maybe I didn’t understand GCA, but my understanding is that it is a mastery-based program and if your student gets the concept, they can check off that lesson and move on. There is no need to do the book work, or offline lessons assigned. If they do not understand the concept then they should do the offline work, but even then, not all of it may be necessary. That is the parents job to help determine if they need more help on a concept, or did they master it and just need to move on.
One thing I had a love hate relationship with is Study Island and custom assessments. Study Island is a place where the students practice the state standards. They can earn blue ribbons when they master particular concepts, and SI is not optional. The student has to answer ten questions about the concept correctly. If they do not pass, they will have to retake the SI quiz until they do. There is a study island blue ribbon to be earned for each standard, so if in math this year there are twenty concepts there will be twenty blue ribbons to be earned.
Custom assessments in elementary school to me are no big deal, but in middle school they come every two weeks and cover what has been taught to the student on the class connect sessions during those two weeks. There is a custom assessment for each subject area, so my middle school girls have four custom assessments every other Friday. It is not that they are that hard, the teachers even send study guides. It just seems like it is overkill especially if the student is already working on the concepts in Study Island. Maybe it’s that I had so many children in GCA that I felt this way, but for what it’s worth, I thought it was a bit much.
In my opinion, Study Island and Custom assessments are an example of what homeschoolers might not like about GCA. Homeschoolers do not really like inflexibility, and deadlines are not usually flexible. :) They also may not like the fact that you are required to take the CRCT in the spring of the year. However, if your child is doing well in Study Island they probably will not have a problem with the CRCT. Every three years a homeschooler is required to take a standardized test, so I thought of it as kind of the same thing, except with GCA it is yearly.
Keeping attendance with GCA is not a big deal either, each day you go in and check off the subjects covered saying your child was present and worked in that area of study.
Also, we started school at nine each morning and my children were all finished by a little after lunchtime.
GCA also sends all the books and materials to your door free. If you qualify based on income, you receive computers to use for school. Many of the books GCA uses I have purchased over the year as an independent homeschooler, things like, Handwriting Without Tears, some of the same books that you find on Sonlight reading lists, Vocabulary from Classical Roots, Early Reading Comprehension ,and Wordly Wise to name a few.
You can deviate from the curriculum if you need to, at least I did. :) My fourth grader was having a difficult time with a math concept, so I pulled out my old Saxon 54 and taught the concept using that book, and then when he had mastered it we went into the GCA lesson, took the assessment and checked it off. I would not recommend doing that a lot, but it can be an option on occasion. The goal is to learn the concept.
Overall, Georgia Cyber Academy has been a wonderful experience for my family. I don’t know about your children, but my older ones always sort of wondered how they were doing compared to public school children. Even though I would encourage them that they were fine they still wondered a little. GCA put their minds at easy, and gave them an extra boost in confidence.
I asked each of my children what their favorite thing, and least favorite thing about GCA is, and here are their answers.
8th grader: Science experiments
6th grader: having teachers for each subject, cool books.
4th grader: it’s fun, my teachers are nice
2nd grader: you get cool science stuff like goggles, and I have a nice teacher
8th grader: Study Island
6th grader: Study Island and math
4th grader: Vocabulary
2nd grader: writing an essay
Having one of my younger children in GCA was an answer to prayer. I had been seeing some issues in the area of reading and felt like he may have an issue with Dyslexia. If you have ever checked into having a child tested, it can range from 800 to 1500 dollars. Our insurance does not cover things like this, so GCA was a gift from God. I really mean that. Upon my request, they set up testing for him, and we are now in the process of getting him the extra help he needs. This in and of itself, was a huge blessing for us.
Georgia Cyber Academy may not be for everyone, but it does have its advantages. Homeschoolers need to pray about the decision before jumping in. It is not as flexible as homeschooling, but it does have more flexibility than you might think, especially in the elementary level. If you need a little help teaching some of those upper level subjects it definitely might be worth bringing it before the Lord in prayer.