Cyber schools (also known as virtual schools) have become another schooling option for students in Philadelphia. Cyber schools use interactive technology and multimedia in place of a traditional classroom, usually allowing students to participate from home using a computer.
Students complete their schoolwork at home and do not attend classes in a school building. Teachers communicate with students and parents through e-mail, telephone and/or video conferencing, to help students stay on track with their studies. Most cyber schools supply each student with a laptop computer, and they often reimburse families for Internet connection costs. The schools usually pay for textbooks and other necessary supplies or loan them to the students for the duration of a class. Under Pennsylvania law, students in cyber schools are allowed to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities at a nearby traditional public school.
How to Enroll
There are currently 16 cyber schools in Pennsylvania, all of them operated as charter schools. As with all public schools, there is no cost to attend cyber charter schools. Because the schools do not require traveling to a physical location, all students who are residents of Pennsylvania can attend any one of these schools.
Cyber schools have a multi-step enrollment process, which usually includes an in-person appointment. During the appointment, the student’s information (such as proof of address) is verified, and the family has a chance to meet with school representatives to answer questions and fill out paperwork.
The exact enrollment process varies from one cyber school to another. To set up an appointment and learn more about what is required from a school, you should contact the school directly. A nearly complete list of all Pennsylvania cyber charter schools, along with their contact information can be found here. One other cyber school can be found here.
A Cyber School Education
Cyber schools are a form of charter school; like other charter schools they have the ability to create their own curriculum and decide how the school will be run. However, these schools have to meet standards in order to grant diplomas. They are accountable for student learning, so students take the same state-mandated tests as other public-school students. Certified teachers oversee instruction of online courses and track student progress. In some cases, students all observe lectures and participate in class discussions by watching video on their computers simultaneously—the class is “live.” In other cases, students can watch recorded lectures at whatever time of day suits them, giving them greater independence over their schedule.
Who Should Attend Cyber Schools?
Cyber schools can be a good option for students with a variety of educational needs. They are still school, with homework and tests, so students and families should not see them as an easy way to a diploma. But for students who love working on computers or who tend to study better as independent learners, they are worth considering. Some schools use what is called a “blended” approach, which requires students to periodically appear at school or another location to meet with teacher(s) and/or advisor(s) face-to-face.
Questions to Ask
Before selecting a cyber school, be sure to ask the school questions, including:
Because few cyber schools actually are based in Philadelphia, you may not find them listed in the GreatPhillySchools search results. But know that you can apply to any of the state’s cyber schools regardless of where you live, and so make the effort to find the one that offers the best fit for your student.
For more information about school locations, contact information, and past academic performance see the Pennsylvania Department of Education website here. Note that a few of the schools are too new to show up on the Department’s summary of 2011 PSSA (state test) performance data.
For additional information, contact: Marlene Kanuck, BEA2/Charter Schools Coordinator, Pennsylvania Department of Education - Bureau of Teaching and Learning