Georgia Cyber Academy (GCA) is an online, tuition-free, K-12 charter school serving 13,000 students. The school sends textbooks and instructional materials directly to students and assigns them a Georgia-certified teacher. Georgia has two school choice programs enabling children to attend the school: a special needs scholarship and a tax-credit scholarship.
“We expect that students will spend no more than 15 to 30 percent of their school time on the computer in grades K–5, 50 to 70 percent in grades 6–8, and 80+ percent in grades 9–12,” GCA’s website states. “We believe in a balanced approach toward education. Computers help us provide you with effective assessment, planning, and time-management tools. Computers also act as powerful teaching tools that can motivate, stimulate, and inform children about the world around them. They do not, however, replace a solid education. Rather, they help facilitate one. That’s why we use a unique multimedia approach that also includes a great deal of traditional books, workbooks, and instructional materials.”
Solution to Many Problems
Allison Cleveland, executive vice president of school management and services for GCA, says the cyber academy is a solution for families facing difficulties in traditional school settings.
“We’re seeing more and more families who are recognizing that a one-size-fits-all approach to education isn’t working for their student or students,” Cleveland said. “We’re seeing students who aren’t being adequately challenged by their local public schools, students with special needs whose needs aren’t being met adequately by the schools. We have, unfortunately, seen an increase of kids enrolling whose parents say they’ve been bullied in their traditional schools. And then a lot of parents who just feel like they want to take more control over their child’s education, who have grown dissatisfied with this idea of dropping their kid off at 8 o’clock in the morning and picking them up at 3 or 4 in the afternoon, and they don’t really get to be hands-on with their learning.”
Cyber Success Story
Atlanta’s CBS affiliate, CBS46, highlighted a GCA success story in October 2017, reporting on cancer survivor Rylee Buchanan, who tried the cyber school while recovering from her illness.
“The Buchanans learned about Georgia Cyber Academy, an option that would allow Rylee to complete her school work any time of day—at any place where there’s an internet connection,” CBS46 reported. “Eight years into it, and cancer-free, Rylee is thriving. She takes her 9th grade classes online, communicating live with her teachers and classmates—basically just as she would in a traditional school.”
Schools like GCA are a good fit for “professional actors or aspiring Olympic athletes whose work or practice schedules do not allow for a traditional education,” CBS46 reported. “It can also be a solution for students who are too distracted in a typical classroom setting.”
Catering to Special Situations
Cleveland says extraordinary students have particularly benefitted from the flexibility inherent in GCA, citing Rylee Buchanan as an example.
“She had a brain tumor in the first grade, and enrolled in GCA to keep up with school while she was going through her cancer treatments,” Cleveland said. “But I think it worked out so well that she stayed enrolled. She’s now a 9th grader, and she’s a cancer survivor.
“We have a 13-year-old boy who is blind, and his zoned, traditional brick-and-mortar school did not provide him with the resources to learn braille, so we enrolled him in the virtual environment with everything required for a child with special needs,” Cleveland said. “It was shocking to me that the traditional school system didn’t supply him with a teacher that could teach him braille, but we were able to. Now he has learned to read braille, and he’s excelling in all of his classes.”
Cleveland says the cyber model allows kids to go above and beyond what they’re capable of doing in a traditional school setting.
“We have a lot of students who participate in or have started their own volunteer groups and support groups,” Cleveland said. “The benefit of the schedule in an online school [is that] it does allow kids, within boundaries—they’ve got to get their work done, they’ve got to attend some live class sessions during the week—but for kids who do have a passion or want to do significant amounts of volunteer work, they are able to fit that around their school schedules, which is neat.
“Just to be clear, though, the majority of our kids are just like kids you see in the neighborhood who, for many reasons, just decided that this model of schooling fits them better,” Cleveland said.
Kelly McCutchen, president and CEO of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, says schools like GCA provide true diversity for children.
“Most people who have more than one child, like I do, when you ask them if their children are the same or pretty different, usually the answer is ‘pretty different’—different personalities, interests, and abilities—and it’s hard for us, and it isn’t fair to just assume our public schools can be one-size-fits-all,'” McCutchen said. “Being able to find what best fits those students, because we all learn better when we’re excited about going to school. So many kids, you’ll see them change dramatically when you get them in the right fit.
“I think so often when schools are blamed for kids’ lack of performance, it’s not necessarily the school’s fault, it’s just not a good fit,” McCutchen said.
Elizabeth BeShears ([email protected]) writes from Trussville, Alabama.