Free online education is now available for students as young as kindergarten in cyber charter schools. "These provide anything that a local public school provides," says Sharon Williams, head of school at Agora Cyber Charter School, including special ed. There is one important difference though: "Students receive an individualized education online,"
Agora students reflect a full range of academic ability. Some are kids who weren't getting enough of a challenge in public schools -- including a 14-year-old who graduate from Agora and got a scholarship to Carnegie-Mellen University. Others experience learning challenges of different kinds.
Average students can also benefit. "Quiet kids may not get a lot of attention in a traditional classroom," Williams says, "so they end up getting Bs and Cs there. Many will bloom [at Agora] with the individual attention."
What all these students have in common is that they're independent and self-motivated. "We're not a place for students to hide, to avoid going to school. We follow attendance laws," Williams says.
"We're not just a free place to get a diploma -- we provide a comprehensive education that prepares students for life," whether they go on to college, the military or elsewhere.
"This is our future," Williams says. "We're hoping that our students are set up with 21st-century skills."
By the numbers
Agora Cyber Charter school has about 10,000 students across the state, about 4,000 of them in Philadelphia. Of those students, 60 percent are in high school, and the other 40 percent are K-8.
Field trips still available
One downside of online education is that students have fewer opportunities to socialize with other children. Agora provides opportunities for students to get together: Once a month they sponsor events — field trips, service projects and social get-togethers — in different regions across the state.
Students who need additional support can attend sessions at the Agora Learning Center in East Falls. Instruction still takes place online, but a coach, plus reading and math specialists, are available on-site to help. Workshops and other learning activities are also offered through the center.