Seven-year-old William Boucher enjoys reading from his big book of Dr. Seuss at his Nana’s house. He can sound out the words and read the stories, which is a change from how things were going a year ago.
William’s mother Erica said he struggled last year in the traditional public school system. He could not read even simple words and he could not catch up to his class.
"I was unaware of how far behind he was because there was no communication," she said. "I’d say, ‘He’s not reading anything,’ and I just got an, ‘I don’t know what to tell you’ type answer."
William and his brother Hayden are now enrolled in Arkansas Virtual Academy — or ARVA — a full-time, tuition-free online public school option where Erica and her sons’ teachers work together to educate the boys at home.
Within two months, Erica said, William was reading at a first grade level. Before, he was having trouble with simple two-letter words.
With ARVA, state-licensed teachers help instruct children through email, phone and online meetings. Families receive materials including textbooks, CDs, videos and a loaner computer for those who qualify. Parents help the children learn their lessons, and teachers help the parents when they have trouble communicating the material.
ARVA teacher Beth Moore said the curriculum is so well written many parents do not have problems helping their children.
"I would say even if you had no teaching background, I tell the parents that the teacher guide is going to help it come naturally to you," she said.
Moore teaches kindergarten, first grade and second grade through ARVA and is Hayden’s teacher this year. She worked in traditional brick and mortar schools before coming to ARVA and said the virtual academy "has probably been my favorite job."
ARVA is an option for students who have fallen behind, who are heavily involved in sports or who do better at home, Moore said.
There are opportunities to go on outings across the state to hang out with other ARVA students and visit educational sites. Recently, ARVA students have been to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Historic Arkansas Museum, the Arkansas State Capitol, the Arkansas Air and Military Museum and the Crater of Diamonds State Park.
ARVA also had an outing at Barnes and Noble where students had a scavenger hunt throughout the store. Then, they had a presentation time where students of different ages were able to show off some of their skills. A young student may recite his or her ABCs and an older student may play an instrument.
"It’s a wide range of talent," Moore said. "Those kiddos have a chance to see what other kids in different grade levels are doing."
When it comes to educating students, they are more likely to succeed when parents and teachers work together regularly to "double team" the student, Moore said.
"There’s a lot less chance of a kid falling through the cracks," she said. "My parents have to be involved. Most of the time they’re sacrificing something."
Erica’s family told her about ARVA when William was having trouble catching up to his classmates, and she spent a year researching the virtual option for her children. William started this school year at home, and Erica said he has improved tremendously since she has had a larger role in his education.
"He does great with one-on-one," she said. "We make it a family affair. He has benefited in that."
Classes meet once a week virtually through webcams so the parents and students can talk with teachers and with each other about assignments and offer advice. Students also get one-on-one time with teachers through phone, webcam or meeting up if the teacher lives nearby.
"The communication between the student and the teacher through the virtual classroom is great, and when they do phone calls the student has to talk to the teacher so it’s not all the parent," Erica said. "You can’t lie on these. They’re going to test you and review once a month so it’s very difficult to fudge these things."
William learned quickly with ARVA because his teacher was giving Erica tips on how to help him read. He was also able to work with his teacher online where she would use a pointer on her end to underline a word as they sounded it out together. He could hear and see what she was doing, which helped him learn the skills himself.
William is now reading at a first-grade level and is continuing to improve his reading while working on a second-grade level in other subjects.
"I can read now," he said, turning back to the computer to learn more about forming words.
(Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1212. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)