TYLER (KYTX) - Nearly 60 families in East Texas have enrolled their children in virtual public schools.
Virtual public schools are just like your normal "brick and mortar" schools. Students can participate in clubs, go on field trips, even write for the school paper.
The only difference is that virtual public school students do most of their school work from home.
Elana Snow of Tyler already has her schedule for the first day of school. Elana's test tubes for chemistry class came in the mail along with her history book.
When her alarm goes off Monday morning, all she has to do is get in front of her computer.
"You don't have to worry about bullying or any of that kind of stuff, which is really nice," said Elana Snow.
Since sixth grade, Elana has been enrolled in the Texas Connections Academy, which is a virtual school with thousands of students across the state.
This Monday, Elana will start her sophomore year.
"If we have doctor's appointments or whatever, she doesn't miss a day of school. Because she can take that hour off and come back and do her school work," said Jeannie Snow, Elana's mother.
The Texas Connections Academy is for students in 3rd-12th grades.
The virtual school has real, live, local, certified teachers who put together lesson plans.
"We follow all of the TEA rules and guidelines and state laws and all of those things any other Texas public school would do," said Sallie Benazzouz with Texas Connections Academy.
Students can log in and sit in a virtual classroom with other students.
"The teacher presents a lesson and they can do discussions and those kinds of things," added Benazzouz.
Each student is given his or her learning plan at the beginning of the school year. Each student's curriculum is based on testing.
For example, Elana is so good at math, she's taking a junior level course, even though she's a sophomore.
"Anytime she runs into problems, all she has to do is call them or text them or email them and they get right back to her," said Jeannie Snow.
"Especially when I get frustrated with something, I can just call them instead of having to figure it out on my own," replied Elana.
More on TCA:
Texas Connections Academy is a free virtual public school for students in 3rd – 12th grades. The school is just like a traditional bricks and mortar school. The only difference is that the students attend from home or wherever they are accessing the school via internet.
TCA is a teacher-directed environment with real, live, local, certified teachers putting together lesson plans, delivering instruction and assigning grades. The school uses the highest quality curriculum and students receive real textbooks and all of their other learning materials (science kits, manipulatives, PE equipment such as jump ropes) at no cost.
Each student is given his/her own learning plan. At the beginning of the year they are tested and based on those results they are given their curriculum. This allows them to be taught to their own needs and abilities. A student who excels in math can be doing 8th grade work. If they struggle in another subject, then they could be on a 6th grade level in that.
Students participate in clubs, write for the student newspaper, go on field trips just at they would in a traditional setting. Since it is a public school, the same requirements exist as far as shot records, vacation days and the students receive a diploma upon graduation. And colleges are receptive to the graduates. Connections Academy graduates have been accepted to many of the nation's leading colleges and universities. Students are prepared for the rigors of higher education with a college-preparatory curriculum, including many honors and Advanced Placement courses.
This is very different that home schooling. Rather, this is a home-based learning environment. At TCA, the parents are not the teachers. They are learning coaches. The parents do not need to purchase the curriculum and come up with the lesson plans. All of that is handled by the teachers at the school.
Students come to TCA for a wide variety of reasons. Some of the students are actors or athletes who have to travel quite a bit. Some of the parents have jobs that require a great deal of travel. There are students who have physical disabilities that make it difficult to sit in a classroom for eight hours a day. And there are families who are just looking for a different option.