Virtual School Experience

In the summer of 2015, we gained custody of my 13-year-old stepdaughter.  At the time we needed to enroll her in school, we had to make fast decisions, and due to Nevada’s low national ranking (50th), we decided to try out a virtual school, Connections Academy.  I was anxious about trying this type of program, but we wanted to make sure she had the best opportunity available to her.  We knew there would be a lack of socialization, so we sought out extracurricular programs that she would be interested in.  She continued her involvement with the Civil Air Patrol in North Las Vegas, joined the Girl Scouts, and takes Karate twice a week.  She also became a member of the Youth Center at Nellis Air Force Base, where she typically tries to go on Friday evenings to hang out with other kids in her age group.

The thing that made me appreciative for online school is that there are teachers that grade her work and do all of the teaching.  I am there to assist her when she asks for help.  The lessons are set up ahead of time and she moves through them at her own pace, but the teachers will notify her and I if she does begin to fall behind.  I can look at her grade book every day and see where she might be struggling and address those opportunities with additional explanations or assistance so that she can grasp the concept and move forward more confident.  She attends live lessons four days a week for science, math, language arts and social studies.  She can email or call her teachers if she ever has additional questions or doesn’t understand something.

We struggled for the first couple of months with learning the system and acclimating to this new style of school.  At first, her grades suffered, but we sat down and discussed expectations, capabilities, needs and methods of learning, note taking and what study techniques worked best for her.  This style of schooling is more difficult than being in a traditional school because it requires self-motivation, technical skill, and parental involvement, especially during the transitional period.  When she understood how to be successful and found the confidence and pride in herself, her grades climbed, and she finished last semester as a straight A student.  

The fear of lack of socialization has dwindled in me.  The beauty of the online virtual school is that though the interaction is not face to face, the students do interact in a virtual classroom setting when they attend live lessons.  My daughter has begun formulating relationships through video chatting with friends she has made and texting/instant messaging.  She has created some friendships through Girl Scouts, karate and the Youth Center as well.  Definitely look into your community recreation centers for all kinds of affordable youth programs and ways to socialize your children if you do consider or ultimately put them in online school.

An additional luxury to online school is that your child can do school anywhere that there is a wi-fi connection, so it opens up the ability to travel off-season, make it to appointments without loss of learning, and establish flexibility for her schedule.  We are also comforted by the thought that should we receive military orders to another base, the transition for her to another school will not be as stressful.

When we first started, I was skeptical about the success of going to an online school, but now that we have both adjusted and both understand our roles and the expectations for each other, the amount of time I have to spend working as a Learning Coach has lessened significantly, and she has taken a more independent and productive role in her own education.  The peace of mind, knowing and being able to see the effort that my daughter puts forth into school on a daily basis, and being able to step in and reassess her education when we see she is struggling is an amazing asset of having her in an online school.  My opinion regarding online schools has greatly changed, and I felt I should share this in the event that one of you might be considering it.  

Family Unplugged

My husband and I always try to find ways to cut waste out of our lives and keep things simple and basic.  For the last three years, we have lived without cable television services and have saved a noticeable amount of money as well as gained peace of mind concerning our children and television.  We bought an Apple TV and Kindle Fire TV.  We have movies and TV shows that we previously purchased on the iTunes store, so it made sense for us to have both TVs.  We subscribe to Hulu Limited, Netflix 2 Screen + HD, Netflix 1 DVD disc Unlimited, and Amazon Prime.  Our total monthly bill for our television services is $32.22 per month, a total of 386.64 per year.  Not a single person in our household misses cable television.  My husband does wish that the NFL would sell a streaming service, even if it was just the Red Zone channel, and I wish Disney would sell their app for Disney Junior as a streaming service, but other than that, we do not feel that we are missing out on anything.

Financial savings is not the only reason we made the decision to unplug from cable services.  With streaming services, there are limited to no commercials, and you have better control over what your children are allowed to watch and when.  We have several educational, award winning shows at our fingertips to turn on for our children when we allow them to watch television.  Some of these shows include, but are not limited to: Tumbleweed and Creative Galaxy on Amazon Prime, Little Einsteins, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, and Octonauts on Netflix, Wild Kratts, Word World and Sesame Street on Hulu.  Having these shows available at the time that we are allowing our toddler and 4 year old to watch television has made the experience of television more enriching.  Our thirteen year old enjoys the streaming service because she has had the opportunity to catch up on shows such as Dr. Who, Supernatural and Once Upon a Time.  My husband and I have been able to stay up to date with the Marvel cinematic universe through Shield, Dare Devil, Agent Carter, and Jessica Jones.  We are able to enjoy shows from the Food Network such as Good Eats, and were avid follower of the Daily Show.  The services we utilize have not left us wanting for anything except football (my husband misses this the most, but he goes out to watch his Eagles if we can’t pick the game up on our antenna). With cable or satellite, unless you have DVRed the shows, you are forced to watch what the networks are airing at that particular time. As opposed to paying for a service that supplies hundreds of channels that are never playing anything that interests us, we can select from thousands of shows on Netflix and Amazon, and stay current on shows we follow through Hulu.

There is also an app, for those who really enjoy the live television feed, called Sling Television.  This app, from reviews on Amazon, appears to work decently, though bugs are still being worked out, and allows users to stream ESPN, ESPN2, AMC, TNT, TBS, Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, ABC Family, CNN, El Rey, Galavision, Makers, IFC, A&E, HISTORY, H2, Lifetime, Polaris+ and Bloomberg TV.  There are also  packages that can be added on for an additional $5 per month per package. Depending on the networks you typically watch, this could be a huge savings compared to what current cable packages cost.  I have personally not used this app because we have grown to used to being able to select the shows we would like to see, and cannot vouch for it, but it is an alternative for those of you out there who have not switched because you enjoy live TV.

Below, I have broken down the cost based on two years of service with streaming and with cable/satellite services.  In my opinion, online television is a much better value than cable or satellite, but this is information for you to look at and decide for yourself.

Please note:  *Data shown below is over a two year period. Some cable companies did not provide information on what prices would be after a 1 year contract, so those prices were kept the same for both years. I based this on two years because some of the cable/satellite companies required a two year contract to receive discounted prices.  Equipment costs were hidden and difficult to find with most cable/satellite companies, but I included what I was able to find. Installation and start up fees are not included in calculations for Cable/Satellite companies. Monthly internet fee not included for prices with streaming services as that cost greatly varies.  If you are new to streaming services, you will have an out of pocket cost for streaming equipment if you do not already have a smart TV, a Playstation, X-Box, Wii, etc.  The Amazon Fire runs around $99.99 and if you are going to get Prime, is the most cost effective purchase. Prices valid as of 12/04/2015 as advertised online at official sites for companies listed.

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For those of you who have been tinkering with the idea of looking into streaming services, if you are not using Dish, the financial savings are incredible.  I was pleased to see that there was one cable company that was reasonably priced in comparison to streaming.  I have never received a bill from Dish, so if they do have hidden costs and fees, I am unaware of them.  For a more thorough breakdown of what I was comparing, please click on PriceBreakdown.

The most incredible information I came across was that even though cable and satellite subscriber numbers have been dropping, the revenue of cable and satellite providers has been growing.  I wonder if hidden fees have grown, or if subscribers even know how much they are paying after their first year in contract because most of the cable and satellite companies require auto payment set up to receive the discounted rates advertised.  There are no hidden fees or additional costs for online television, you pay the monthly cost and that is it.  The only additional cost that is not included is the monthly fee for internet service.

In summary, if you are interested in unplugging and have been hesitant, I hope that I have supplied you with enough information to consider taking the plunge.  Please feel free to ask me any questions about streaming services.  I am not an affiliate of any of the above services, and am not receiving any compensation from anyone for this article.  I just wanted to put this information out there so people could see the differences and ask any lingering questions they may have.  For those of you who have already unplugged, I believe we are the pioneers of the television of tomorrow and it is only a matter of time before networks will take the steps that CBS, Showtime and HBO already have, in selling streaming apps for their networks that don’t require a cable subscription.