The author’s teenage son in virtual school.

Unpopular opinion time. I like Virtual Academy. It hasn’t been without its ups and downs, temper tantrums, and technical difficulties. But ultimately, it’s been good for my family overall. Now by way of background, we’re a privileged lot. Neither of my children have developmental difficulties, learning disabilities, or conduct disorders. I really feel for all those parents who must manage these challenging aspects of their children’s lives.

Further, I would be remiss if I did not mention that we are a family with means – each child has their own space to work in, with a decent computer, and I’m fortunate enough to work from home (I actually did before the pandemic).

And finally, at 14 and 10, my kids are old enough to know how to read, write, and type already. They have played lots of video games and have the hand-eye coordination thing down. Again, my heart goes out to you parents who have young kids; I would not want to be trying to do this with younger babies.

But my point in writing this, as a highly privileged parent of older children, is to help anyone who doesn’t already love virtual school understand that it’s actually a good thing – on many levels – and it’s teaching your kids the skills they will need to succeed in life. Perhaps a little faster than they normally would have learned them, but I want you to take this as the tremendous learning opportunity it is.

Virtual School Teaches Computer Skills

As a result of VA, your kids now know how to navigate computers. They know how to use various Google programs; that everything from learning a new language to making art can be done digitally; and that typing is actually not so difficult once you do it all the time. Sure, math can be a little tricky, but your kids have learned to draw digital shapes, lines, and upload photos of paper and white boards. These are all skills they will use for the rest of their lives. Even if you aren’t a computer savvy parent, you must admit that in the future our children are facing, life will be digital. So better they learn these skills now than struggle to learn them at age 40 or 50 like many of us.

Virtual School Teaches Life Skills

Inevitable technology malfunctions, lost internet, and missed Google Meets are no doubt as commonplace an occurrence in your home as they are in mine. Hopefully you are taking these opportunities to teach your children to write a polite email to their teacher explaining what happened and asking for forgiveness and/or accommodation. This is a wonderful way to teach your kids how to be humble, polite, and kind. The art of the apology email is one they will definitely need to learn for their future jobs. Talk to your kids about how this connects to adult life; how you apologize to your supervisor or your client (even when it’s not your fault).

Virtual School Teaches Responsibility

It wasn’t easy, but I forced my kids to take their tardies and absences after a few weeks of constantly reminding them where they needed to be and when. Offer grace in the first couple of weeks of a new schedule, but then make it their problem, not yours. For their entire lives post schooling, they’ll be responsible for getting themselves places on time and prepared. Plus, if you’re working from home like me, there’s no way you can keep up with 2 or 3 or even 4 or more different schedules in addition to your own. Granted, when I show up to meetings, I’m dressed in more than pajamas, but sometimes I have to choose my battles, and that’s one I chose to let go of.

Virtual School Teaches Time Management

I love that one day a week, the kids have an “asynchronous day.” This means that for one day each week (Wednesday), they have a day that has no scheduled class times or live Google meets. They still have work they’re expected to complete, and they still have to “sign in” on a Google form that proves they logged in for the class, but other than that, they’re free to complete assignments on their own time. The idea is to use the day as a “catch up” day and to hopefully give them a little time away from their computers.

This has taught my kids more about time management than anything else. My youngest, who keeps up with his schoolwork all week, is usually done with “school” on Wednesdays by 10am, leaving him the rest of the day free to be away from his screen (I still don’t allow video games until after 4pm, but that’s another post). The oldest, who hasn’t been doing a great job of completing his work (in fact he’s currently grounded because he was watching YouTube videos instead of working on schoolwork – long story) has learned the hard way that if you don’t get your work done the rest of the week, you will find yourself chained to your computer on Wednesday and sometimes even Saturday completing things.

The asynchronous day has been so successful for the kids that I’ve adopted it in my work strategy as well. I keep one day a week completely free of scheduled meetings or deadlines. It is my catch up day. Unlike my kids, there’s always work to do during my catch up day, but I digress.

Virtual School Engages Me with My Kids

By far, the best part of virtual school has been our daily check-ins. I set aside time in my own schedule from 3:00-4:00pm every day to check in on my kids’ work. While they find it irritating that I make them do it like a weekly meeting an adult would have with a supervisor (where we go through everything they have completed or are working on and I offer comments), I love it because I actually know what they are learning in school and I can see them progressing. Us parents have more ability to do that when our kids are younger, because the kids bring home worksheets and the teacher checks in via Class Dojo or similar.

However when you get to middle school level, your kid has 6 teachers and you may not even know all their names. The most I used to get from my kid when I would ask, “how was your day” was a grunt and “Fine” or “Good” or “Boring.” Thanks to virtual school, I can now ask, “What did you think about Manifest Destiny as a concept? How do you think it shaped our relationship with Native Americans today?” And then we have an engaging conversation about the disenfranchising of… oh wait, that’s in my dreams. What I actually get is, “Yeah it was cool to talk about.” But seven words instead of one; I’ll take it!

Virtual School Has Not Been Perfect

I hate that my teenager is hardly ever around kids his own age, and it makes me sad that my preteen is overly focused on Coronavirus news (thanks to unlimited access to Google), but I’m thankful that we’ve had this time together to work on study skills and the personal responsibility that virtual school offers. They fight with each other constantly and I spend a lot of time playing referee, but I’d rather do that than sit beside them as they struggle to breathe. Selfishly, I’m enjoying the extra family time, but I do worry that this year will hold them back from learning about what it really means to be a teenager.

I’m grateful that we have the means and privilege to make virtual school work for us, and we’ve decided to continue with Virtual Academy through the rest of the year. I hope that by us staying home, we can make it a little safer or a little more socially distant for those of you who don’t have the same choice we do. But I also hope that everyone, regardless of their circumstances, embraces or at least learns to tolerate all these extra skills our kids are learning. The Kids are Alright.