Is Virtual Learning Right for Your Family?

For families in a variety of situations, virtual learning is a flexible way to learn, grow and succeed. We asked an Oakland VLAC teacher what virtual learning is all about.

For the majority of students, a traditional K-12 classroom setting in a public, charter or private school works well. But there are also a lot of situations where families need the flexibility of virtual learning.

“Some families travel throughout the year. Maybe their home is in Michigan, but their dad works in California. A virtual learning option means the family can stay together and the children can continue learning,” says Andrea Becker, Lead Instructor with Virtual Learning Academy Consortium (VLAC) at Oakland Schools.

Other children may have medical issues or are immune sensitive, so it’s unsafe for them to be in a classroom environment, or they are in and out of the hospital receiving treatment. Some children experience anxiety which makes a traditional classroom challenging and unproductive.

Some students attend a religious school during the day and complete virtual learning during the evening. Others are athletes who train or compete during the school year and need the flexibility that VLAC can offer.

“And there are traditional homeschool families who choose VLAC to be home with their children while still earning a gold star education and getting everything that they would get in a brick-and-mortar classroom setting,” says Becker. “There are so many different situations where a traditional classroom may not work for a student. Virtual learning with VLAC is a solution that is non-traditional but growing more and more popular. Students will find the same academic rigor they’d find in a traditional setting.”

A day in the virtual learning life

Virtual learning is not the same as remote or hybrid learning. It’s largely asynchronous, which means that students are not expected to be “in class” at any given time.

“Students discover that virtual learning is very flexible with VLAC. Students can choose their own schedules or have a schedule built to fit their needs. If they are involved in something else during the day, for example, training for a sport or a recurring doctor’s appointment, students can do virtual learning at other times throughout the week, such as in the evenings or on the weekends. VLAC is a very flexible and independent program for our students,” says Becker.

When students begin virtual learning with Oakland VLAC, they are assigned a mentor teacher who guides them as they begin, and who offers tips for pacing their learning throughout the year. Students are placed in a grade level “classroom” where the mentor teacher holds weekly optional live lessons and can also be there to provide support and guidance to students and families in need.

“What VLAC students do need is a learning guide at home. This can be a parent, a grandparent or other caregiver who is dedicated to helping the student through the curriculum,” Becker says.

Younger students typically need more support and will rely on their home learning guide more heavily than middle school and high school students, she says, adding that the learning guide works in partnership with the mentor teacher.

The daily time commitment varies, too. “Students work about one hour per subject. K-8 students work about four hours in a school day, but grades 9-12 have six classes, so they work five to six hours a day,” Becker says.

At VLAC, lessons and curriculum platforms are designed to meet the needs of all types of learners. A student may watch a video or complete a reading to introduce a topic, then practice the learned skills through a variety of lesson types. Students may then demonstrate their understanding with a project or other assignment. Students will also take assessments that are graded by their mentor teacher.

Working on grade level

When students enroll in Oakland VLAC, they begin at the appropriate grade level for their age. If they demonstrate interest and aptitude for a particular subject, their mentor teacher can provide additional resources for increased learning. “If a student is struggling, the mentor teacher can provide additional support, too,” Becker says.

For students with an IEP or 504 plan, a special populations consultant works in combination with the mentor teacher to help the students move through the curriculum.

As educational offerings change, VLAC’s curriculum adjusts to meet the needs of students. For upcoming school years, VLAC will offer a more tailored learning experience for students.

A rigorous curriculum review has led to broader course offerings for students, including those which develop skills and dispositions for student success, including perseverance and resilience.

“There will be more courses and curriculum choices for families,” says Becker. “We will be adding more options for students, including AP courses, credit recovery, CTE-related courses, world language courses, STEM-related courses, and project-based learning elective choices for K-8 students. High school students will be able to challenge themselves with the rigorous curriculum VLAC provides along with advancing into AP courses and more. This aligns with Oakland Schools’ principles of career readiness, and we want our students to be focused for success later on in their lives.”

Students also receive the technology they need to complete their coursework, including a Chromebook and, for K-5 students, a printer. “Students also get the support of the Oakland Schools service desk for any tech-related issues”, Becker says.

Education that works for many situations

The Virtual Learning Academy Consortium can meet the needs of students in a wide variety of situations. But the choice is a personal one for families, says Becker.

Still, virtual learning through VLAC isn’t for every student or every family.

“VLAC is not always the best fit for a student. We partner with the student’s district to come up with the best plan and learning option for individual students and families so that no matter the reason for joining VLAC, the student will find success,” she says. “Parents should really consider if they have the time and motivation to stick with it because it does require a higher level of parent engagement as well.”

Throughout the 11 years Oakland VLAC has offered virtual learning, thousands of children have found success in a space where they can learn, perform and grow, Becker says.

“We get a lot of positive feedback from parents,” she says. “They love that connection with their child and enjoy the fact that they are able to sit with them and go through the curriculum together. This is something they don’t get when their child is in a regular classroom. That special time of connection is very important for many families.”

Oakland Virtual Learning Academy Consortium partners with 58 districts in and out of Oakland County. Open enrollment takes place from April to mid-September and reopens mid-year for second semester students. Learn more about VLAC at virtuallearningacademyconsortium.org.

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Metro Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.

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