Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Columbia Virtual Academy

***Note***
Due to changes in the law and funding, CVA is no longer the flexible schooling option it used to be.  Gone is the student fund.  Gone is the curriculum flexibility.  They offer a limited selection of curricula options, and if what you want isn't listed, you must pay for it yourself.  Field trips, I am told, aren't plentiful.  It feels more and more like a brick and mortar school-at-home, which is just want I believe the legislature wants.  We left CVA before this school year began when we saw that most of our curricula choices weren't available and most of the ones available would not meet our needs. I no longer recommend CVA as a schooling option.

***Note***


While much of the information in this post is still accurate, CVA has made some changes for the 2010-2011 school year due to concerns at the legislative level.  One of these changes is the student fund.  The student fund is no longer a set amount spend by the parent.  Funds are managed by your CVA teacher with the goal of meeting the student's educational needs.  They still cover much of the same items (mileage is no longer covered), and they are still shooting for the $1200 fund per student, but they realize some students may use more or less money than that depending on their needs.  You need to work together with your CVA teacher to make these decisions based on your student's learning plan.  This change isn't necessarily a bad thing; time will tell.

We are homeschoolers. Unless, that is, you ask the lawmakers and some homeschoolers. Last year we heard about, investigated, and joined a fairly new virtual academy in our state. With that enrollment, we officially became public-schoolers per state law. However, we enrolled at 99% to maintain our legal status as homeschoolers as well. It saves my children from the requirement of taking the WASL, our state's assessment test, while giving us almost all of the advantages of being full time in the virtual academy. So, why would a die-hard homeschooler join a virtual public school program?

Columbia Virtual Academy (CVA) is a program designed for and by homeschoolers. The school was designed in such a way to give the homeschooling families who enroll maximum flexibility while still conforming to the laws regarding alternate public education. Once enrolled and working with the staff, one gets the impression that the program and the staff really are serving to meet the needs of homeschoolers and not just a way for the school district to rope the homeschoolers back into the system as some would believe. You can tell that homeschoolers created the program.

There are many benefits and only a few, easy to meet, requirements for those choosing to enroll. The most significant benefit, and the reason most people chose to enroll, is the student fund. The school provides each enrolled student a certain amount of money to spend on the education of that student. The amount varies depending on state funding/budget and the percentage the student enrolls at. Currently, it is set at a maximum of $1200 per full-time enrolled student. The student fund can be accessed by the parent to purchase approved curriculum, school supplies, classes in the community, and to reimburse for field trips related to your learning plan for the year. How you chose to spend it is up to you.

Another benefit of enrollment is that it can help some meet the homeschool qualification requirements in our state. To homeschool in Washington, the parent must either have a certain number of college credits, take a homeschool qualifying course (runs about $120 and 14 hours), be under the supervision of a certified teacher, or be deemed qualified by the school superintendent. Being enrolled in CVA does two things: the student is a public-schooler under state law thus these requirements don't apply. However, if the parent choose to retain homeschool status by enrolling part time, CVA meets the certified teacher option. Because I do not have enough college credit, enrolling in CVA "qualified" me to homeschool my children without having to sit through 14 hours of class material I already knew from homeschooling for the prior three years. (You don't need to declare your intent to homeschool until your child turns 8 which means you also don't have to "qualify" to homeschool until then either.)

A third benefit of enrollment is having the support of the staff and trained teachers at your disposal. If you have any questions or need any guidance on how to deal with an issue that comes up, help is just an email or phone call away. If your child is struggling to learn to read, your teacher-contact may be able to offer up some ideas to help him. Not sure if your child is working at grade level? They can help you assess your child's work. Need ideas for supplementing your gifted student, They can give you some. Having this support can ease the doubts that often come hand in hand with homeschooling.

Even the requirements for being enrolled, turned into a benefit for me. There are certain reporting requirements for enrollment. The first one is that you must write and submit a student learning plan at the beginning of the year (or upon enrollment, if mid-year) for approval. Prior to CVA, I never had a written plan for our homeschool. Writing the student learning plan, gave me goals and focus for the year. Another requirement is that the students need to make weekly contact with their CVA teacher via email or a quick phone call. My children enjoyed their weekly contacts and having them kept me motivated to do school each week and not shrug it off as I often did prior to CVA. After all, the kids needed to have something to report each week. Additionally, I was required to write a monthly progress report briefly stating what was accomplished in each "course" listed in our learning plan. The requirement, again, motivated me to get our school work done. The monthly reports also serve as a nice record of our school year, a state requirement for all homeschoolers. Finally, I am required to do school a certain number of hours each week. The number of hours required depends on the students grade level (between 10 and 25) and the percentage enrolled. However, the meeting of those hours is very flexible and the reporting consists of a simple yes/no question at the beginning of each month. While these requirements might scare off some homeschoolers, I found each of them to be a blessing to our homeschool. They gave me accountability that I desperately needed. Because of the requirements, we accomplished much more than we would have otherwise and helped give me confidence in the job I was doing as my children's teacher.

Based on our experience with CVA last year, I re-enrolled my children for the coming school year and plan on using CVA throughout our homeschooling years, provided they continue to be as supportive and flexible for homeschoolers.

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20 Comments:

Duckygirl said...

Hi, I've been reading your blog for awhile now. We are also a CVA family (we live on Vashon) and love it! I think I've spread the word here enough that 3 other families also joined ;) So far it's been a complete blessing without any downside. You described it well!

-Laura
Mom to 7

Cocoa said...

I believe this is the same program my SIL uses. She lives in Ephrata. She too loves it! I wish they did something like that here. I can see how it would benefit homeschoolers and the public schools.

Wendy said...

This all sounds very similar to the program I just enrolled my children into. We're going it full time as that was the only option in our state... all or nothing. We're officially enrolled in the K-12 virtual school, but I'm still calling us homeschoolers, since I'm teaching my kids from home! lol It's too challenging to explain it any other way when people ask anyway!

... said...

Thanks for explaining CVA so eloquently - I'll be sending the folks who ask me to explain CVA to this post from now on!

Anonymous said...

Thankyou for that description. I am currently looking into it myself, but feeling a little bit nervous as I have homeschooled independently for many years now. I wasn't sure if I wanted to give up any personal control over my kids education, so it is nice to hear good things about cva. I have sent them our basic info and have yet to hear from them. I am looking forward to hearing form them now.

Anonymous said...

We are currently on the waiting list. I want to find out what curriculum they have approved so I can start planning next year. When do you find out if you make it in the program and do you get a catalog then?
Jill
wajacobs@msn.com

The Rogers said...

I was wondering if you could answer a few questions that I have about this?
I am on the waiting list for next year. I am curious about how you can get by without having to take the WASL. I don't want to have to take that test. I am also curious about how much extra work CVA will require of me.
Any help would be fantastic.
Thanks a million

Anonymous said...

WOW! I was refered to CVA by a friend of mine who is a homeschooler but she uses her district Co-Op. I have 2 special needs kids. I like many people who homeschool have very little faith in the public school system but when they flat out told me that they would not make the accomidations my son needed as perscribed by his docotrs I was done. They also flat out refused access to his service dog. Now before people go to far with this I am lodging formal complaints with all departments I need to AND pulling him from the school.
I happend upon your blog looking to reconfirm that CVA is what I thought it was and what they at CVA told me they were. Now I am even more comfortable with my choice to homeschool and so secited to see my son be able to surpass my expectations with his education as I know he now will have the chance to do!

Sarah Jensen
Seattle WA
SMJ1080@hotmail.com

Aynur said...

We paid for the Calvert Kindergarten curriculum ourselves for our oldest daughter, not knowing about this program ... this is something to think about for next year though.

Anonymous said...

Do you know if we enroll our kids into CVA, would my son still be able to have speech therapy at the school? We have an IEP, he gets speech therapy once a week, I do not want to lose that benefit, but like the idea of CVA, just wondering...

JoAnn said...

Yes, you can dual enroll. It will reduce the financial benefit from CVA because the two districts share your child's FTE, but it is possible. CVA will walk you through it.

Anonymous said...

Your blog has really helped me understand CVA...thank you! I am homeschooling my kindergarten age daughter (using Sonlight) and it's obviously the middle of the year, but we are about to enroll her in gymnastics and I am inclined to enroll in CVA to help cover that cost. Questions: did you apply part time (you say you're 99%...)? I spoke with someone on the phone and it seems like this is the best option (they just cover the subjects you want them to?)..but how do you arrive at the percentage? Also is it worth applying mid year, in your opinion? Will they cover any of the curriculum I already purchased? Thanks for any input! PS I am in Tacoma as well! ---Alison Brooks

Anonymous said...

Oh! forgot my email: a.joy.brooks@gmail.com Thanks, Alison Brooks

Chip said...

Hello, I am looking into CVA and am confused. I was wondering if you could explain this sentence, "With that enrollment, we officially became public-schoolers per state law. However, we enrolled at 99% to maintain our legal status as homeschoolers as well." Also, I noticed that you use some Christian curriculum. Is that the 1% that you don't claim because it is illegal to use public money to fund any religious instruction. (Article 1, Section 11 of the Constitution of the State of Washington states
that no public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or the support of any religious establishment.) I am trying to understand how this works.

My email is cbsloth2@aol.com and we are neighbors. I live in Gig Harbor. Thanks for your help!
Blessings,
Becky

Anonymous said...

This was our first year with CVA, and it does have its pluses, but it also has some negatives a newcomer might want to be aware of.

CVA currently has a budget of $1,180.00 per student. That may seem like alot of money, but trust me it's not. Even if you are very resourceful and get your curriculum for next to nothing, music, dance, swimming, karate, etc. all add up very fast.

I had inquired at the beginning of the year, before signing my children up, as to what would happen if the money ran out. I was told by an administrator not to worry about the budget, that my children would get what they needed. Well, that has not proven to be the case.

We're half way through the year and my children's budget is spent, and I am trying to figure out how to pay for those activities so my older child, who is in high school, can get her credits. It's a real mess. And the upsetting thing is that these activities count toward credit she needs to graduate. They were not extra.

Also, both of my children are using online curriculum. For my younger child, curriculum is paid for by the month, so CVA may no longer continue to pay for her schooling - meaning we must pick up the tab in order for her to finish out the year.

So, know the costs for everything and keep track of your budget. Nobody else will do it for you. CVA has something on their website that is supposed to allow you to see your budget, but it never worked for me.

It would be a good idea if you could know your costs up front - how much for curriculum, music, dance, swimming, etc. so you will have an idea of whether the budget will cover everything, and if not you can be prepared to pay for some things yourself.

Also, our teacher was new this year and didn't know the ropes. This cost my older child two months of school time because curriculum was not ordered in a timely manner. Thus, she ended up starting school in November. When 2nd semester came, same thing happened again, and now we are concerned she won't finish everything by year's end.

Other things - the reporting is easy. Don't let it scare you. But, there is alot of paperwork for ordering curriculum and classes, and getting reimbursed for things. Also, reimbursements to you and payments to extra curricular instructors take about a month - which is a long time. We've had complaints from our child's music instructor because they are always paid a month late.

Also, if you have a child going into high school, they won't be able to do running start through CVA. They will have to do it through their home district. This is what I was told by my child's teacher, who encouraged me to enroll my child in regular public high school for running start.

At this point, I'm leaning toward not using CVA next year. I am very disappointed with the way things have been handled, from late curriculum, to late payments to vendors, to not being informed earlier of our budget's status.

As a final thought, I have homeschooled for ten years and tried everything from unit studies to work books to online curriculum. There is no perfect program out there. You just have to find what works best for you and your family, and work with the flaws as best you can.

JoAnn said...

Anonymous, have you discussed your feelings with one of the principals? Did you get that specific things would be covered in full in writing?

I would try talking to the principal about how you feel and what the teacher has told you, not told you, or done slowly or poorly.

I fired my first teacher. Actually, I emailed the principal about my issues in some fairly strong language and was given the option to finish out the school year with her and change the next year or change right away. I love my current one.

As far as budget, our learning plan takes us over budget but I have in writing that they are covering x,y,z in full even though it is over the budget. I'll push the issue if it comes up.

Anonymous said...

Local programs like CVA often can serve your homeschoolers needs better than programs across the state. Look into your local programs or help start one now! You can support your local economy this way. CVA is not a bad program, but the funds from your student are used to support only one small district and many high administrative salaries. Support local programs and your local community!

Bella Jean said...

The 2012-2013 school year for CVA has drastically changed for the worse. The parent no longer get a "fund" to use for curriculum and activities. CVA has a index of curriculum options to choose from and you get only one set per class that your child is taking. They are no longer as flexible with meeting your child's needs. There have not been any field trips this year. They no longer pay for PE activities/classes. Even the teachers are stricter. Doesn't have that homeschooling feel that it once had. They are really trying to be like a brick and mortar school as much as they can from a distance.

JoAnn said...

Bella Jean, we opted to not continue with CVA after seen the new curriculum catalog at the end of last year. Thanks for reminding me that I needed to update this post. I've put a note at the top.

ecomom22.com said...

I greatly appreciate all this information. We attend WAVA and had been considering moving to CVA because of some of the pluses, but it wounds like the things which would suit our family best are no longer there.

I think someone above said it best, you have to figure out what works best for your family and deal with the kinks if there are any.

thanks so much for all the info!