5 Ways to Enhance Online School with "Real School" Experiences

Group gatherings and field trips are a wonderful way to bring learning offline—and PA Cyber plans hundreds a year.
Group gatherings and field trips are a wonderful way to bring learning offline—and PA Cyber plans hundreds a year.
6/9/22 - By Jessica Laird

While the majority of instruction happens online at your typical cyber school, the virtual elementary or high school experience can extend well beyond the computer screen. Between school-run offerings, local programs, and parent-led groups, there are plenty of in-person opportunities that can be meaningfully incorporated into an online education.

“The pandemic has taught us how much we value those face-to-face interactions,” said Brian Hayden, the CEO of PA Cyber—one of the largest and most experienced online tuition-free public schools in the nation. “Families have expressed to me their appreciation over the years for the hundreds of in-person field trips and enrichment activities that we put on. We brought back those activities as soon as it was safe to do so.”

Known for creating endless in-person opportunities to enhance their personalized live and self-paced online K-12 curriculum, PA Cyber helped us compile a list of five meaningful ways to take virtual learning offline. Read on to find new ways to expand your child's online schooling with “real school” experiences.

Build a strong friend group with local families

Socialization and friendship-building are a key part of any school experience. While kids can undoubtedly build relationships with peers through online classrooms, opportunities to socialize in-person are an important part of development.

“We recognize how important it is for our cyber families to connect,” said Jane Camp, the student events supervisor at PA Cyber. “Attending in-person events allows them to gain support, enhance students’ learning, and create lasting friendships.” In many areas, connecting with other families happens organically—you may meet children at the neighborhood playground or on a visit to the library. But, if you need a little help or you’re looking to expand your family’s social circle, local Facebook groups and other online parenting forums can be a great way to meet caregivers who are interested in getting together. Does your online school provide a student directory to help organize playdates and meet-ups?

PA Cyber invites students on regular field trips, including historical attractions like Gettysburg.

Plan regular field trips and group activities

Any online program will undoubtedly encourage time away from the computer to learn and explore. Nature preserves, gardens, museums, farms, science centers, zoos, and theaters all make for excellent field trip destinations! Outings and activities can also be planned around your child’s curriculum. A unit about space could mean a visit to the planetarium or just a night in the backyard searching for constellations.

For added fun and learning, PA Cyber recommends planning a group field trip by connecting with local friends or parenting groups. They offer enrolled families a program called Family Link that helps parents and students connect through hundreds of local field trips and group activities across the state. These outings give children a chance to spend time with classmates who might share similar interests.

“Our students and families have a blast on field trips to historical places like Gettysburg and Philadelphia, as well as going snow tubing or to a water park,” said Jane Camp, the student events supervisor at PA Cyber. "On field trips, we create opportunities where students can break out into groups with others who are around their age."

Sign-up for after-school activities and other extracurriculars

After-school classes, weekend programs, and sports teams are all wonderful opportunities for kids to socialize and learn. From chorus to science to soccer, there are extracurriculars to meet just about every interest. Research options online or talk to local parents about their favorite programs, and find one that best fits your child and your schedule.

While many online students find local extracurricular activities in their community, PA Cyber offers regular in-person programming at their 9 regional offices across Pennsylvania (in addition to over 70 virtual clubs and workshops!). Options range from jewelry making to theater games to STEM activities, and vary by locations. They all give kids opportunities to discover their strengths and interests.

Marking milestones with in-person ceremonies and celebrations is a meaningful addition to online schooling.

Celebrate important milestones with in-person ceremonies

Special ceremonies and celebrations are an important way to mark children’s milestones and help them create new memories. From posing with chalkboard signs on the first day of school to planning a stepping up ceremony with friends and family, there are so many opportunities to bring “real school” experiences to kids participating in online programs.

Believe it or not, PA Cyber hosts two proms and two graduation ceremonies, to ensure that students in both the western and eastern regions of the state have the chance to participate in these quintessential school events.

Seek out support for parents and caregivers too

Kids aren’t the only ones who need support and community when it comes to their education. Connecting with like-minded parents and caregivers, attending workshops, and utilizing other resources and guidance are all essential for navigating the cyber school experience with children. Attending family-inclusive school events like in-person book fairs and local outings provide parents with an opportunity to connect with one another.

PA Cyber holds two graduation ceremonies to ensure that students across Pennsylvania are able to attend.

“I enjoy going to in-person events because it allows me to meet families that are getting their children educated in the same way and sometimes for the same reasons,” says Erin Butler, who is both a virtual classroom teacher at PA Cyber and the parent of a PA Cyber student. “Meeting and talking with other parents is a real help in getting the most out of PA Cyber and in learning about other opportunities that the school has to offer (like college in high school or clubs/workshops). With all the in-person events, there is little trade-off between cyber school and traditional education.”

To learn more about PA Cyber, a free K-12 charter school for kids across the Pennsylvania area, visit PACyber.org. You can also sign up for an online information session here, or simply start the enrollment process.

Photo courtesy of PA Cyber