By Tara and Will Sol
Many parents realized over the last two years just how differently kids learn. As parents who have adopted six children, we knew well before the pandemic that education isn’t one size fits all. We’ve been grateful for the power of school choice to try different learning options and find the ones that best meet our children’s needs over the years, and we’ve found online learning to be a surprisingly powerful and customizable choice. More Washington families could benefit from knowing about this and all school choices.
Every parent knows that their children have distinct talents, character traits, desires, and learning styles. As foster parents, we’ve seen that lesson magnified within our household. Each of our children has unique strengths and vulnerabilities that make up part of their personal story. Remarkably, there’s been one choice that has allowed all six of our children to grow and develop, each in their own unique way. That’s been an online learning program through the Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA).
First off, it’s worth pointing out in conversations about online learning today that established online schools are not the same as emergency remote learning. While district-run remote learning during COVID-19 was often ad-hoc, with teachers lacking the resources needed to serve students effectively, online learning has been happening in an intentional way for three decades in America. The established online schools, such as WAVA, where our children have gone for over five years, are truly serving as a model as online learning develops internationally.
Personally, our six children have all succeeded in the well-oiled online workflow at WAVA and we have seen it evolve over time to be more user friendly and effective. In many ways, our children have grown in measures that did not seem possible in often-stressful and unpredictable brick-and-mortar schools, and that was even before the chaos of COVID-19. And contrary to the assumed stereotype, our children have all met good friends through their virtual academy, and have built flourishing social lives through their school connections.
In particular, virtual learning has been an incredibly helpful school choice for our children with special learning needs. The students who required Individualized Education Programs in traditional schools now no longer need them for their online learning. That experience has opened our eyes to the ways in which school choice options naturally provide a more customized, focused learning environment that allows all students, including those with special needs, a chance to succeed.
WAVA has benefited all six of our children, but that still doesn’t mean that one style of education fits all. Some Washington families may find other school choice options better suited to their personal needs. They can participate in open enrollment to attend public schools outside their assigned neighborhood, consider free public charter schools, or look for the specialization of a magnet school, private school, or homeschooling.
This National School Choice Week, which starts Sunday, focuses on bringing families information about options, so they can find the best school for their child’s needs. As foster-adoptive parents six times over, we recognize that parenting comes with big challenges and many unknowns. But as outdoor explorers and avid hikers, we also know that, while climbing to a mountaintop requires time and planning, the gorgeous scenery always makes the effort worthwhile.
We encourage you to think of your school choice exploration as a similar type of journey. And just as the breathtaking views on a gorgeous day provide memories lasting a lifetime, so too will selecting the right school have positive consequences that last for your children’s entire lives. If you haven’t yet explored all the school choice options available to you in your area, make this the time to do so. Your children’s future will thank you.
Tara and Will Sol live in Shelton, Washington.