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Black education trend: virtual schools

Chicago Virtual School students John Colon, Romell Brown, Brenice Brown, Joy Augustin, Keren Gomez, Amelia Henry, Shanice Mabry and Fano Vonjimalala celebrate at graduation. // Photo courtesy of Craig Butz.

By// Julius Rea

Statistics show that Black kids drop out of school at a higher rate. What’s not so clear is why or how to combat this problem.

According to a spring report by the BBC, more African-American families these days are looking into alternative schooling options for educating children, which dovetails with the national trend. Around two million American children are home-schooled, the BBC notes.

“For the African-American community there was a huge amount of pressure against it, because in America, the grandparents of today’s home-schooled children fought for desegregation of schools. They thought, ‘The public schools are going to save us,'” National Home Education Research Institute director Brian Ray told the BBC.

He said that African-American attitudes towards homeschooling are changing fast and it’s easier for Black families to have access to homeschooling.

“The traditional school setting works for most kids but not for all kids,” said Craig Butz, head of Chicago Virtual Charter School, one of the many state-recognized alternative education programs across the country.

Chicago Virtual Charter School students Emmanuel Hunter, Carlos Macias, Ishmael Hunter, Nathan Knight, Jarvin Brooks and Patty Macias sit together in a learning lab. // Photo courtesy of Craig Butz.

“It’s about having a high-quality option for students who, for whatever reason, are not as successful as they might be in a traditional setting,” he said.

CVCS’s growing popularity offers insight into African-Americans growing embrace of alternative education. According to Butz, over 70 percent of his students are African-American.

LaShone Kelly, 48, and her husband Jonathan, 50 are two such parents who have turned to virtual education as an alternative.

The Kellys have 15 children — including La Wanda, 30, Jonathan, 27, Jordan, 25, Roscoe, 24, Raynard, 22, Lynette, 21, Lynda, 19, Joseph, 17, Jacob, 15, LaShone, 14, Laura, 11, Jeffrey, 10, Leah, 9, and Lena, 7.

Their youngest, Jachin, is 5 years old. As of September, he is the youngest member of the Kelly family to attend CVCS since the family enrolled three years ago.

Kelly said she took her children out of traditional school after dealing with a lack of parent involvement and outdated teaching materials. One of her daughters — who was attending fourth grade — was given a book her husband used when he was the same age.

She then explored homeschooling, charter schools and private education.

Jachin and Lena Kelly are the two youngest siblings out of the 15 Kelly children. In September, Jachin will be the youngest family member to attend Chicago Virtual Charter School. // Photo courtesy of LaShone Kelly.

“We liked homeschooling best because of the time it allowed the children to go in depth into the subjects they were more interested in,” she said. “I’ve been able to monitor the children’s progress more closely than when I was in a public school setting.”

And, of course, she loves CVCS. Since the school is a hybrid home school, it give students access to educational materials online while providing teacher communication, which includes weekly face-to-face meetings, emails and phone calls.

“[Because I have] 15 children, of course, they all have different learning curves. What works for one child won’t necessarily work for another child,” she said.

Just as diverse as the Kelly children, enrolled families have a variety of different backgrounds. Upon her children entering CVCS, Kelly said she noticed the melting pot of religions.

“You could see that a lot of people who chose the Chicago Virtual School wanted their children to be in an atmosphere where they were not ridiculed for their religious practices. The parent could still integrate that part without it interfering with education,” she said.

Butz said that alternative education is an option for families looking for religious expression, curriculum for academically advanced children and support for students with special needs.

“Parents are getting quite frustrated with what their students are going through in a traditional school,” CVCS parent Shaun Banks said.

Banks — a Chicago Public School teacher — supports the traditional school setting, but she said virtual schools are better for students who have needs traditional schools cannot meet. She struggled to find a suitable method to educate her son, who has special needs.

“In my experience as an educator, I found that I made some progress with him when I stopped working and I was able to individualize his needs,” she said.

Banks enrolled her son into CVCS as a third grader; he’s now entering high school.

Looking for a drastic change, Sabrina Boyle enrolled her three children in CVCS after they attended Catholic school and public school.

“Part of the problem is that one of my children has ADHD; we were told to get him into a public school, and it would help him out,” she said. “It just didn’t. They were unwilling to help. Several teachers actually told me ADHD doesn’t exist.”

Boyle said the school’s format forces parents to take more responsibility with their children’s education while staying in tune with their kids’ learning styles.

Butz said — in alternative education and homeschooling programs like CVCS — parents are an integral part in the student’s education because “they’re the ones who are overseeing the day-to-day education.”

As alternative education, homeschooling and hybrid home schools grow in popularity, parents will likely continue to take education in their own hands.

However, parents interested in alternative education should assess their reasons to turn to alternative education. Butz, Banks, Boyle and Kelly said they need to look into the time commitment.

While some state education websites offer information on homeschooling, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education says that a homeschooling parent “must offer 1,000 hours of instruction during the school year, with at least 600 hours in the basics, which will be in reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science.”

“If you don’t have the time to put [into your children’s education], you could be setting up your child for failure,” Kelly said.//