Students have more choice than ever when it comes to pursuing their education and getting ready for life beyond the classroom.
In fact, the “classroom” isn’t even necessary anymore.
Polk Virtual School is a way for students to take classes online and fulfill their K-12 educational requirements. All they need is access to a computer and internet on a daily basis. Students can fit course work into their busy schedules, and still have local teachers provide individualized instruction and encouragement.
Lakeland resident Lisa Keeffe said her two sons — Conor, 16, and Liam, 15, — have been enrolled in virtual classes since the first grade. Even though they can take lessons from home in their pajamas, the boys have learned that organization and self-discipline are key, she said.
“We are totally focused on school,” Keeffe said. “You have flexibility, but you have to have dedication.”
The boys must set schedules and keep up with their studies even while following other interests. Liam is able to participate in cattle roundups on a nearby farm. Conor can take dual enrollment classes at Polk State College as well as tackle projects like building a computer.
Conor said he appreciates the freedom of being able to learn at his own pace, sometimes working ahead or slowing down to better understand the material. “If you are stuck in a lesson, you can stop move on to something else and come back to it later,” he said.
Liam added that Polk Virtual’s teachers are very accessible, and they also have face-to-face meetings to go discuss his progress. “They are not just robots talking to you over the phone,” he said.
There are 20 Polk Virtual teachers currently serving 230 full-time students like Conor and Liam.
Deron Williams, director of Polk Virtual, said his full-time students include students who are involved in activities such as ballet, gymnastics and acting, and need to travel or train extensively.
“Some students experience social anxiety in a traditional school setting,” Williams added. “The classroom just doesn’t fit that child for whatever reason. Polk Virtual provides greater flexibility. It can also take away the occasional distractions in a classroom setting. Some students can focus better and work at a pace more appropriately suited to them. There are students who really thrive in this virtual environment.”
However, you don’t have to take classes full-time to take advantage of Polk Virtual. The school also serves more than 2,000 part-time students enrolled in one or more classes online. Some part-time students want to tackle an extra course outside of the normal school day; others might be interested in recovering credits at their convenience.
Under Florida law, students must take at least one virtual course online as part of their high school graduation requirements. Students are eligible to take the required course once they enter middle school, and Polk Virtual is a free option.
“If you are a public school student, it doesn’t cost anything,” Williams said. “Using the internet, you have 24-hour access to the online learning materials and course work. You can dive into your studies from anywhere. Your teacher is a certified educator right here in Polk County.”
Not all of a teacher’s contact with students is online. Polk Virtual teachers also use telephone calls and schedule face-to-face conferences to monitor their students’ progress and make sure they aren’t struggling in their courses. Students are provided with their teacher’s email address and cell phone number to stay in touch.
Paula Cardinali, who teaches English at Polk Virtual, said she has regular contact with her students and gets to know them well, recognizing their voices whenever they call.
Virtual teachers provide detailed feedback to students on their assignments and pay careful attention to areas where a child might need more support or practice, Cardinali said. “I can see their improvement,” she said. “I’ve watched these kids grow as writers.”
Elementary students attending Polk Virtual full-time have weekly face-to-face lessons via the internet, as well as monthly in-person visits to the Polk Virtual office, at 900 Lowry Ave. in Lakeland.
Middle and high school students attending Polk Virtual full-time have monthly visits at the Lakeland office. Teachers schedule visits with part-time students at the schools they regularly attend.
For more information about Polk Virtual, click here or call (863) 665-4538.