An Interview with Akilah Abdul-Rahman: A West Philadelphia native talks about her experience as a graduate from Pennsylvania Charter.
By PHENND Summer Intern Aine Sheehan
Q: Why did you attend a Cyber School?
A: I attended Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School because of my mother’s decision to take me out of the struggling private school I attended. My mother avoided public schools for the entirety of my education because she wanted to protect my moral values as a Muslim and because she didn’t believe that most public schools could provide me with a top-notch education. She turned to Cyber Schooling along with several other moms she was consulting with as they contemplated an alternative to public education in local schools.
Q: Did you create good relationships with your teachers? Your classmates?
A: I did create good relationships with my teachers, mostly because I enjoyed learning and approached my work with enthusiasm that my teachers could sense. It was incredibly easy though to *not* have good relationships in a cyber school though because the threat of a physical teacher in front of me reminding me to do my work just wasn’t there. It was easy to slack off and for a couple of years I did have trouble maintaining my grades. Maintaining good relationships was possible for me when I reciprocated my teacher’s active attempts to engage with the me. Most of my teachers were passionate and did try to have positive relationships with students.
For the first couple of years PA Cyber was pretty small and I had the same students in my classes so it was easy for us to become close to each other. We became friends through online chatting, Myspace, e-hangouts, etc. However, I believe the school was having trouble with irresponsible behavior from students, including crashing computers with malware/viruses and pornography. Because we communicated on laptops that the school provided, when the school started installing strict parental control programs on the computers we were no longer able to access social networking and that made it hard to make friends. In my last few years of cyber school I didn’t make a lot of new friends. But the dynamics between students were pretty much the same as they would be in a non-virtual environment…the people you got along with and became friends with were people you had things in common.
Q: Would you recommend online classes for students in college?
A: I would. Cyber learning is not for everyone and I would not encourage blindly sending students to online schools. Cyber schools are important because they reflect the need for choice and the presence of varied learning styles amongst students. I was an independent and self-motivated learner so I was successful online but I know of many students who were not. College students need to be able to access how they learn best and make the decision to take online classes based on their needs. One of the greatest aspects of online learning for college and K-12 students alike is a customizable pace and schedule, so students with other significant commitments outside of school (a job, for instance) have more say in how they learn.
Q: Did you ever feel that by attending a cyber school you were missing any elements in regards to your education?
A: Of course. Making friends over the internet, friends that sometimes live 5 hours across the state and who I might not ever see face to face, was hard and I really missed the social interaction. I missed being apart of clubs and things like that. Ultimately, though, the intellectual experience I had with PA cyber, including the opportunity to take classes at a local community college, was so worthwhile that it outweighed what I lost in social time. Social time is something that can be made up outside of school and part of the challenge in adjusting to this new mode of schooling is finding out how to bridge learning with making friends.
Q: Would you change anything about your cyber school experience?
A: I would not. PA Cyber launched me into a successful post-secondary experience and I am happy to be amongst the first classes of people who graduated from cyber schools. That said, I would personally work harder to be social. I would encourage cyber schools to prioritize making the social element of school and learning prevalent for students.
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