Finding Connection in a Virtual World

flvs globalAs published in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine

Students, like all people, want to feel valued and cared about. They crave connection, understanding, and desire relationships that make them feel positive about themselves. Finding acceptance and encouragement at school can often be difficult, but at Flexpoint Virtual School, students have the opportunity to not only navigate their education, but to establish great connections as well.

FlexPoint Virtual School is an established leader in developing and providing online and blended education solutions to students in grades 6-12 worldwide. It was created during the 2000 Florida State Legislative session as the national and international arm of Florida Virtual School, the first statewide, Internet-based public high school in the United States.

The fully-accredited FlexPoint Virtual School offers more than 120 courses, including NCAA-approved core courses, electives, honors, and Advanced Placement (AP)®. It is built around the FLVS competency-based model and has one of the highest completion rates in the industry.

What does FlexPoint Virtual School attribute its high student success rate to? The connection teachers make with their students and the partnership with parents.

Teachers Form a Strong Connection with Students

FlexPoint Virtual School Principal Matt Vangalis believes it is absolutely essential for teachers to form a strong connection with students and their families.

“In a virtual setting, it’s too easy for a student to keep the computer off or not log into your class if there’s not a connection,” said Vangalis. “If you establish a strong connection, not only will students complete their work, they start to believe in themselves more and typically start to achieve more.”

Vangalis has been with Florida Virtual School for 13 years and was a middle school teacher at a traditional school for six years. The father of three school-aged children shared that as a young teen he was “headed toward being a drop-out student.” Vangalis said a caring and supportive teacher helped turn things around for him.

Students often find it easier to connect online because the one-on-one interaction with the teacher feels safer. A student is free to speak up without fear of judgment that comes from raising a hand in class and being seen by others. In the online world, students also know their teacher is actively listening and is providing direct encouragement and feedback.

While it can sometimes be a challenge when a child doesn’t open up or respond, Vangalis said the FlexPoint Virtual School teachers are very persistent and willing to try multiple means of communicating.

Brenda Peterson, FlexPoint Virtual School Social Studies teacher, said, “We connect by learning what they [students] like and remember to ask about their activities or hobbies. I like to make each student feel as if they are the only one in my class.”

Peterson taught for 20 years in Osceola County Schools in Florida before joining FlexPoint Virtual School 10 years ago. One of the aspects Peterson said she particularly enjoys in her role is when her students share pictures, videos, short movies, or stories of things they are doing that are important to them.

“I have students all around the world in all time zones on six continents,” said Peterson, who currently lives in Virginia. “I can honestly say I know my kids just as well or maybe even better in this virtual world.”

Parental Partnership and Involvement is Key

There is no question that parent and family involvement has a profound influence on children’s school success. Research shows that the best predictors of student achievement include a home environment that encourages learning, parents’ high expectations for achievement and future careers, and parents being involved in their child’s education.

Florida Virtual School encourages parents to be involved in their student’s educational journey because when parents, teachers, and students are fully involved, student success rates increase. Just how involved a parent becomes in his or her child’s education is totally up to him or her, yet at FlexPoint Virtual School parents are engaged on a regular basis.

Parents and students outside of Florida may view several course tours at to get an idea of how courses are set up. Once registered in the course, parents can review the modules and all course materials prior to the student’s exposure to it and if a parent has concerns over certain course content, the teacher will try to work with the parent and student on a case-by-case basis. Parents are also able to monitor their student’s day-to-day academic progress.

Peterson said it’s been her experience that homeschool parents are more involved in their child’s education, and she’s seen that the student benefits greatly by this partnership.

Meet Homeschool Student Carli Pitts

Carli Pitts, 17, of Indiana, is registered as an NCAA equestrian athlete and has won numerous awards. The college-bound competitor will be completing her homeschool education in Spring 2014. In her second year as a FlexPoint Virtual School student, Carli said she has built a strong connection with her teachers.

“I’ve really enjoyed working with all my teachers,” said Carli. “They’ve asked about my horse shows. They care about why I am doing FLVS and how I am doing. They are very interested in me as a whole.”

Vicki Pitts, Carli’s mother, shared, “The whole homeschool idea was very daunting to me as I knew I wasn’t a teacher. FLVS has been great for us. This has just made our lives so much easier since we travel so much.”

The proud mom shared that Carli “did all the research herself and found FlexPoint Virtual School” but it was very important to her parents that FlexPoint Virtual School was accredited and accepted everywhere. “We wanted her to be pushed and wanted her well prepared for college.”

Pitts added that while Carli is already very self-motivated, she likes how FlexPoint Virtual School keeps her updated regularly on how she is progressing.

“This is really preparing her to be on her own,” she said. “She keeps track of her pace while juggling training four to six hours a day.”

A Successful Partnership

Studies show that when students have many caring adults involved in their learning experience they tend to be more engaged and benefit more. At FlexPoint Virtual School, the partnership and connection among teachers, parents, and students is key to students’ success.

Vangalis is proud of his FlexPoint Virtual School instructors and concluded, “Our teachers will advocate for their students to no end, which is why our students respond to them because they feel like they’re in their corner — and they truly are.”

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Suzan Kurdak is a Community Relations Specialist with Florida Virtual School and a multiple award-winning freelance writer.

Her article about FlexPoint Virtual School students, parents, and teachers partnering for student success was originally published in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.

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