In March of 2020, the schools in our district sent students home for what was expected to be just a couple of weeks. For my oldest daughter, it turned out to be two and a half years of virtual school. Last week, she transitioned from virtual to public school, so I wanted to share what we needed to do and how that’s turned out for us, in case you were considering doing the same with your kids.
First, let me share a little about our story and why we decided to transition from virtual to public school. We realized halfway through the 2020-2021 school year that my teenager was struggling with attending public school virtually.
While some students had returned to campus, we decided as a family to keep them home until Covid-19 was less of a threat. Our oldest daughter has always excelled in school. A’s and B’s since day one. Halfway through her 9th-grade year, she started missing classes and getting D’s and F’s because she didn’t feel comfortable on camera and wasn’t getting the support she needed. It’s hard to make connections with teachers and students when everyone is just staring into a screen at each other.
I tried to speak with teachers and her guidance counselor but was met with a lot of “all the kids are having trouble adjusting” and less of a plan of action to help those struggling students adjust. After a couple of weeks of getting nothing accomplished, we decided as a family to withdraw her from public school and enroll her in a statewide Internet-based school. With this full-time virtual option, she could work at her own pace and not worry about being on camera. The one-on-one support from her new teachers seemed to be what she needed.
At first, she seemed to be doing okay, but without the structure and deadlines that public school brings, she took much longer to finish a class than needed to complete the grade.
In October 2021, we moved hundreds of miles from home, bringing on a new set of issues. She had no friends in our new city and had not seen any of the friends she grew up with for so long that social anxiety started to set in. We discussed enrolling in public school as soon as we moved, and she was adamant that she wasn’t ready.
Fast forward to July of 2022. She should have been about to begin her 11th-grade year but had only completed her 9th-grade classes and half a year of two of her sophomore classes. At the rate she was going, she would not graduate on time. So, I strongly suggested that we transition from virtual to public school this year and get her back on track.
Luckily, she was on board. She realized that she needed structure, and part of her also really longed for friends (even though she may not have said it out loud).
As a Mom, it broke my heart to watch her lose her passion for school. I was trying to do the right thing and let her go at her own pace, but maybe that was my biggest mistake. She lost her drive and the high school memories she would grow up reminiscing about.
Transitioning from virtual to public school was a process. If you are considering it, do not wait until the last minute! We started about three weeks before school started, and her schedule wasn’t ready until the night before the first day of school.
As I’m writing this, she has been attending public school for one week. While it was incredibly hard the first few days, she now comes home with stories to tell about teachers and new friends, and I already see a huge change in her. I couldn’t be more proud of her and hopeful that this was the right decision for her.
How to Transition from Virtual to Public School
Step 1 – Request Transcripts
You’ll need to request transcripts from the virtual school. Depending on their busy schedules, this can take a week or so. In the meantime, I printed the unofficial transcript. All of this was done directly on the internet-based school’s dashboard. You’ll also need their elementary and middle school transcripts if your child is in high school. In the State of Florida, transcripts are held at the last public school they attended. This may differ from state to state. A quick email or call to that school should get you the transcripts in a few days (again, depending on how busy they are).
Step 2 – Speak to the Guidance Counselor
Make an appointment with the guidance counselor at your child’s new public school. This step was the hardest for us. I emailed the principal and the person in charge of student services about three weeks before school to find out who I needed to speak to. I never heard back from the person in charge of student services, but the principal wrote back within 24 hours and pointed me toward the guidance counselor. After a few back-and-forth emails, I found out what we needed and when to come in. Because school was starting in just a couple of weeks, there was no option to make an appointment. Instead, a time block for us to come in and wait in line, which we did twice before we could finally sit with her. She looked at the transcripts, asked my daughter if she was ready to work hard, and then put her in the classes she needed to graduate on time.
Step 3 – Apply and Get Paperwork Ready
Our county requires that you apply online and submit necessary paperwork such as birth certificate, proof of residence, transcripts, and physical and vaccination records. Until that paperwork is in, they will not register you for school. Luckily we had everything we needed and were able to make the doctor’s appointment the week before school started. If, for some reason, your doctor’s office is booked, you can sign a 30-day waiver which will allow your child to go to school for 30 days without the physical and vaccination records. You must turn that in before the 30 days, or they will not allow your child to return to school.
Step 4 – Back to School Shopping
Quite possibly, our favorite part was back-to-school shopping. If your child has been going to school virtually, they probably don’t have the supplies they need in the classroom. So the next step in transitioning from virtual to public school is finding out what they need. Our school has the supply list on its website. You can also call the school or have your child ask on the first day of school. The principal at the high school recommended that every student have at least a pen and paper to write down what is needed in each class. Clothing is also essential, so make sure to learn the public school’s dress code and shop accordingly.
Step 5 – Attend Orientation
Most schools will have an orientation the week before school starts. Find out when that is and show up! At our public school orientation, we were given a brief presentation by the principal about the rules, what to expect, and what they require of the students and the parents. We were then dismissed and given the ability to walk around the school and get acquainted with where everything was. Bus schedules, PTA information, and online portal sign-up stations allowed us to get everything done to transition from virtual to public school.
Step 6 – Earlier Bedtime
Since virtual school is completed at your pace, technically, students don’t have to wake up at a specific time. To adjust appropriately to the new schedule, the week before school started, I had our daughter make sure that she went to bed by a reasonable time. This helped her adjust to waking up much earlier than she had been used to.
Step 7 – School Lunches
This particular step will depend on your public school. The schools in our county all offer free lunches to all students, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. Thousands of kids eating lunch at the same time at my daughter’s school come with long lines that don’t guarantee you will get your food and eat it before it’s time to go to your next class. I suggest that you pack a lunch for your child on the first day (just in case). Then, you can decide what you’ll do based on what the lunch line looks like at their school.
Step 8 – Transportation
Figure out a plan A and B for transportation to and from school. Our plan was the school bus until the first day when we realized there weren’t enough seats on the bus to fit all of the students. If you run into any issues, you should contact transportation directly. The school should be able to give you that phone number. Expect that they will have thousands of requests for the first couple of weeks and plan accordingly.
Step 9 – Homework
It’s important to figure out what works best for your child and get them used to a daily routine so that they don’t miss any of their homework deadlines. We’ve found it best for our daughter to get home, grab a snack and then sit down and do her homework immediately. Getting her back on a set schedule can be one of the hardest parts of transitioning from virtual to public school.
Making the Best Decision
Transitioning from virtual to public school may not be the best option for every child, but it was right for ours. If I can give one piece of advice to you, it’s that this should be a family decision. But also, make sure that you are doing what you feel in your heart is best for your child. Teenagers can be stubborn (I can categorically say that, having two in my home), but most of them do value the input and guidance that we give them as parents.
If you have any questions for us on our journey, feel free to comment below. I’m always happy to help!