As I mentioned in the fall, we opted to move our kids out of our local school district and place them in charter schools. Our daughter went to a local brick & mortar charter, while our son started with a virtual charter school in Massachusetts called TEC Connections Academy. We had a lot of questions before we got started and have had a lot of people ask us things since. Let’s be honest – you don’t hear about kids doing online schooling all that frequently (yet). Here are the 10 top things people should know about TECCA.
1. It is not homeschooling.
Yes. You’re at home, but it’s a public school. There’s a set curriculum, a minimum number of hours to be completed each week, teachers assigned to help out, and a general schedule you’re expected to follow. It’s flexible, but you still have to answer to someone else.
2. TEC Connections Academy is a charter school.
I sort of gave this one away in the intro, but not everyone knows what it means to be a charter school. TECCA is “free” to you (in Massachusetts), just like your community school would be. In fact, your local district pays TECCA to teach your child. Here in Massachusetts, we have two online charter schools to choose from, but TECCA is part of the Connections Academy umbrella that is available internationally. Because it’s a charter school in Massachusetts, it acts as its own school district and students must apply to attend. If there are more applications than spaces, they will hold a lottery to assign seats in the spring. Otherwise, people can register on a first-come, first-served basis.
3. It’s not a hands-off option for parents.
If you’re avoiding homeschooling because you work full time, have other kids to take care of, or otherwise can’t invest the time, be forewarned. TEC Connections Academy requires a responsible adult to help kids learn. The amount of time depends on the age of your kids and their abilities and motivation, but expect anywhere from 4-6 hours for little ones to 2-3 for middle school and an hour or two for high school. You’re basically walking younger kids through the curriculum. For middle schoolers, you’re helping with planning, accountability, study skills, etc. Some kids may need a lot more support than others, especially if they’re new to online schooling. The same goes for high school students.
4. There is a big learning curve.
If you and your kids are extremely comfortable with technology, that’s certainly going to help. But even so, it takes some time to learn how to navigate lessons, manage your time, take notes, etc. Learning to work efficiently without a structured school day is also challenging for a lot of kids. Those who are less comfortable with tech will have even bigger hurdles, of course, although the staff will help as much as they can. Expect an adjustment period for many families where kids and adults figure out how to work together.
5. TECCA provides learning materials.
They provide textbooks, workbooks, some literature, science kits, art kits, a DVD for PE, etc. Some grades provide a Chromebook for kids to work on. Keep in mind that some books may be entirely online. You can print or order them if necessary.
6. You can bring your child’s IEP with you.
Just like any other public school, they are required to provide accommodations where necessary for your chilld’s education. That may look different for online learning and you may need to revisit it as you go and learn.
7. TECCA follows a regular school calendar.
Here in Massachusetts, we are required to have 180 days of school. TEC Connections Academy does as well, and you’ll record the hours your child works each day to prove you’re getting in the time. They have the same school vacations and holidays for the most part.
8. Sick days don’t count for much.
Since kids are at home as usual and can work from bed, don’t expect any kind of lighter course load for sick days. The work can be postponed, but it still needs to be done. For kids with chronic illnesses, this does provide a certain amount of flexibility to keep up on their on schedule, but if your kid gets the flu, they are likely to fall behind. Unlike a traditional school setting where kids might just have homework to make up, they will need to get in all of their work. The same is true for other absences like bereavement days, family vacations, etc.
9. There are field trips.
TECCA hosts a few all-school gatherings during the year where almost the entire staff is present. There are also a bunch of regional field trips where one or two teachers are hosting. The field trips are a great chance to connect with teachers and with classmates, and also get out of the house. Do know, however, that while you can use the hours to count toward a completed school day, you’ll still need to complete any assigned work.
10. There are clubs.
Much like in a traditional setting, TECCA has interest clubs like yearbook, robotics, gaming, literary magazine, etc. Most of these are hosted by the greater Connections Academy program and are populated with kids across the United States (and likely beyond), but TECCA had a few that were locally based, including a community service club.
Attending TEC Connections Academy has a lot of things in common with the brick and mortar schools you may be familiar with, but there are plenty of differences as well. The more you know, the better prepared you’ll be to make a good decision for your family.