Important Questions for the New School Year

Every family has a decision to make about the fall. An expert from VLAC at Oakland Schools offers some guiding questions.

By now, every family has experienced some level of remote instruction. From preschool to college, students have engaged — to one degree or another — in something other than traditional classroom instruction.

“This was a year that forced families to change the way they educate their children. Through this, we all realized how important education is to us and how it takes skills, time and effort,” says Julie Alspach, program administrator with Virtual Learning Academy Consortium (VLAC) at Oakland Schools. “One of the biggest lessons from the pandemic is how important schools are and their impact on the foundation of our communities.”

Approaching its 10th year, VLAC provides a virtual solution for K-12 families who need flexibility, often due to professional commitments, or who prefer to homeschool. Pre-pandemic, across 58 districts in nine southeast Michigan counties, VLAC provided virtual learning to as many as 2% of the school population.

Remote learning, on the other hand, is an alternative forced upon students who would rather learn in person, Alspach explains. During the pandemic, it served its purpose.

You have choices for next school year

Just as parents wave a collective goodbye to this school year, one question remains: What will happen in the fall? While vaccines are more available, eventually for younger children, the pandemic is not completely over and parents still have choices to make. Alspach offers some guiding questions to help parents make informed decisions for fall 2021.

How did last year go for your child? “Reflect on what happened academically. Did they do well or did remote learning produce a learning gap? This is by no means the fault of the child, parents or school system, but the reality of the pandemic on society,” she says.

What about you? “Did you want to be as involved as you needed to be? If your child was doing asynchronous instruction, you were pretty involved,” Alspach says. “But there’s a reason we aren’t all math teachers.” No judgment there; not all parents are able or willing to take over this enormous responsibility. Conversely, some parents enjoy engaging with their children in their lessons and relished the time together.

What are the deadlines? If you’re considering at-home learning for the fall, know that every school district has varying deadlines for this decision. “Some districts are asking how many want a remote option for next year and have their own timelines for locking this option in,” Alspach says. “You should be making your plan A and B now.”

What else to consider

Rather than think long-term, Alspach urges families to plan for the fall and possibly next year, but no further — and be aware of your choices, including school of choice options.

“Districts may offer at-home learning for one more year, but many aren’t,” Alspach says. “Find out what type of virtual learning your district is offering — synchronous with live teaching or asynchronous with teaching facilitation and more parent involvement.”

Summer learning may be available. “Schools may be able to get grants toward summer programs and there will be more summer learning opportunities than ever,” Alspach says.

Every family should be thinking about how this next school year will look, and the time to do that is now.

“What this year has taught us is there are multiple ways our children can be educated,” Alspach says. “We have more choice than ever, but we need to be educated consumers and know what options we have and what will work well for our children.”

Learn more about Virtual Learning Academy Consortium at Oakland Schools at virtuallearningacademyconsortium.org.

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