They make visiting all 50 states a school-year-long project. They practice their Spanish lessons while traveling from Mexico to the tip of Chile. They sign up for cruises in January and go to Disney World in October. They are families whose children attend virtual school, and they’re a growing niche that the travel industry is just beginning to notice.
What Is Virtual Schooling?
Virtual schools use the internet to connect students in grades K through 12 with aligned curriculum. Classes are guided by professional teachers armed with the day-to-day performance data they need to personalize the learning experience. Students may attend school from home, the road, the hospital, the Olympic circuit – wherever they might be. Unlike homeschoolers, virtual school students are considered formally enrolled in schools recognized by states and by accrediting organizations, and their parents serve as their learning coaches, not their teachers.
Also known as online schools, e-schools or cyber-charters, virtual schools have been part of the U.S. education ecosystem since the early 2000s. By latest estimates, there are now free virtual public schools in more than 30 states, enrolling more than 300,000 students from kindergarten up. For students who live in a state without a virtual public school, or who live outside the U.S., there are also fully accredited global virtual private schools through which students can earn a U.S.-based diploma no matter where they live.
While still a boutique form of schooling – serving fewer than five percent of students, even in booming virtual school states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Arizona – these schools are growing steadily year over year as parents seek education options that meet their children’s learning needs while fitting with family lifestyle.
The Family Travel Industry Is Paying Attention
Virtual schooling has attracted notice in the family-focused travel industry for several reasons:
A built-in flexibility of time and place means that families can “do school” while traveling and can travel at times other than traditional school holidays. They must, of course, still keep in mind standardized state tests that require public school students to be physically present at designated locations for a series of days each year.
Theme parks and cruise lines seeking to even out the calendar find that virtual school families jump at opportunities to engage when the crowds are thinner and the prices are below peak.
Adventure travel and immersion travel advisers are helping virtual school families plan journeys that go well beyond a two-week jaunt and integrate learning in a sustained way. Some families are even opting to take virtual education along as they “road-school,” traveling continuously while learning along the way. As virtual school parents Kathryn and Jarrett Pitts, Sr. put it, “This is a small world, why not see it all!”
For more information about virtual schooling, contact Mickey Revenaugh, Executive Vice President of International Connections Academy, a fully accredited global virtual private school and an FTA member.
Mickey Revenaugh is co-founder of Connections Education, a pioneering provider of K-12 online learning that is part of the Pearson family. She also currently serves as General Manager of International Connections Academy, a global virtual private school.
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