HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — With families set to make a decision on how to send their children back to school this fall within the next few days, many parents are weighing if Hillsborough Virtual K-12 is the right option for their kids.
Hillsborough Virtual K-12 is where students learn online, at their own pace. It's all using a web-based curriculum with teachers from Hillsborough County. There are four different options for enrolling in this virtual school.
Students who choose Hillsborough Virtual K-12 have full access to their teachers for each subject, whom they can correspond with via email, phone, instant message, or virtual classroom.
The programs in Hillsborough Virtual K-12, as well as other virtual schools across the Tampa Bay area, are not considered e-Learning or homeschooling.
E-Learning is where students are learning online by logging on to a live feed of their assigned classroom at their assigned school. Daily attendance is taken and they learn just as they would if they were attending class in-person.
Homeschooling is where a student leaves the district altogether. Parents are responsible for determining the curriculum and teaching their kids full time.
With Hillsborough Virtual K-12, Virtual Learning Director Matthew Hoff recommends that students spend one hour, per subject, per day, working on and submitting assignments to their online platform.
He said it's important to note that students are not working on any set schedule.
"If your son or daughter works better in the afternoon, have them work in the afternoon," Hoff said. "If they work best first thing in the morning, then have them work first thing in the morning. It's just whatever works best for each kid and family."
Also, parents are considered "learning coaches" not teachers.
"All we ask for the parents to do is be that learning coach, to set up schedules at home, to set aside time to make sure kids are actually getting the work done," Hoff said.
However, Hoff said parents may have to spend more time keeping younger students on track, versus older students who can be more self-directed.
"If you're a kindergarten kid, it may be a little more hands-on, as opposed to a middle school or high school kid who can be much more independent," he said.
In addition, they are making specific adjustments to the curriculum for younger children.
"It's very different for a kindergartner to do virtual learning as opposed to a 12th-grader, so being sure that we scaffold the instruction and content and curriculum for the families so that it is not cumbersome, but it does enhance the learning process," Hoff said.
In addition, Hillsborough Virtual K-12 is working to shore up additional support for students in the Exceptional Student Education Program, who include gifted students and students with disabilities. This will include more time for students to submit assignments.
However, Hoff said it's important for parents to consider if in-person learning is the best option for your ESE student.
"If a kid in ESE has as an extremely high level of support, maybe the virtual environment may not be the most appropriate setting and face-to-face instruction would be best-suited," Hoff said. "It's a case-by-case basis, looking at individual IEPs (individualized education programs) to make sure that your student's IEP can be directly supported. You want to make sure we're doing the best by every single kid."
The application window for full-time enrollment in Hillsborough Virtual K-12 for the 2020-21 school year ends July 24.