- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Fourteen eighth-graders strolled across a stage Tuesday to receive very real certificates for graduating from their virtual school.

The students celebrated each other — and their parents and teachers — in Tuesday’s ceremony for the Friendship Public Charter School Online.

The virtual school conducted the graduation event at the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus (THEARC) in Southeast Washington.

School head John “Tracy” Sloane said there are a number of reasons why students and their families would choose an online school, such as health factors, bullying, differing learning styles and abilities.

“We are able to meet the student exactly where they are in their learning,” said Suzanne Conway, a Friendship elementary teacher. “They don’t have to stay with the bulk of the class, every student is learning on their own level.”

The students spend four days of the week on computers in virtual classrooms with a learning coach, often a parent, by their side. One day each week the students meet in a classroom for a face-to-face lesson.

student has his or her own schedule of classes, some of which are taught by a teacher in a group lesson and others taught by a virtual teacher via a pre-recorded video.

For classes like physical education, “there is a trust component to it,” Mr. Sloane said.

Physical education on some days requires 30 minutes of activity, and most students are involved in athletic leagues outside of school, he said.

Friendship Public Charter School Online has about 200 students enrolled in kindergarten through eighth grade, Mr. Sloane said. Its curriculum is provided by K12, a for-profit education company that services about 100,000 students across the country.

Students become friends during face-to-face lessons and on field trips, and that friendship carries over to the virtual classroom’s chat room.

“The focus is 100% on learning in our model,” Ms. Conway said.

The nature of online classroom reduces risks of bullying and societal pressures because they aren’t in a traditional classroom, Ms. Conway said.

Of the 14 graduating eighth-graders, 10 will participate next year in the Friendship Collegiate Academy, which will launch its high school online program in the fall.

For graduating student Omar Mousa, there was too much “craziness” at his brick-and-mortar school. His family decided to make the switch to Friendship three years ago because they felt like the “teachers didn’t care” at his old school, said Omar, who will attend Benjamin Banneker Academic High School next year.

Elon Wilson has attended the online school since kindergarten and now looks forward to attending the virtual high school. She said she likes the online program because she doesn’t have to socialize with people every day.

“I’m very introverted, so I liked doing things by myself,” Elon said.

• Sophie Kaplan can be reached at skaplan@washingtontimes.com.

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