Students and Parents Are Discovering New, Different Ways to Learn

The Changing Schoolhouse

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On a bustling Friday morning, the basement of Cynthia Covington’s north Tallahassee home is a haven of tranquility. The room is pleasantly lit, quiet — but not silent — and kids and young adults are lounging comfortably in cushy chairs, eyes fixed casually on computer screens. One of them leans back in his chair, eyes closed — taking a short break from the glow of the screen in front of him.

“Back to work,” he says softly, picking his head up and opening his eyes once again before returning his focus to the computer in front of him. After all, it’s a Friday and, unsurprisingly, he’s in school.

It’s a fact that’s becoming increasingly clear to students, parents, teachers and policymakers: The schoolhouse is changing. While the vast majority of students will be once again catching buses and driving to public and private schools in August, others are learning in old (homeschooling), new (Florida Virtual School) and different ways.

Covington runs one of those “different” entities. Her Homeschool Classroom Inc. is a school-esque business that provides virtual-school students, particularly those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, with a classroom setting in which to work and seek help.

Homeschool Classroom probably isn’t what you would think of when imagining a typical classroom. Covington, a former nurse and homeschool parent, holds class in a room of her home; there are no rows of desks, buzzing fluorescent lights or chalky blackboards. The room is, instead, adorned with a single large table, beanbag chairs, toys and pillows, all of which are part of Covington’s idea that students should be comfortable while they learn.

“We believe that kids work better when they’re comfortable, when they can make some of their own decisions,” Covington says. “I want this to feel like home; I want it to be more laid-back. We don’t follow the clock, we follow how we feel.”

The marine science curriculum for her daughter included a trip to the Bahamas

Courtesy Terri Hall


With a teacher-student ratio of 1-to-6 and personalized scheduling (students aren’t required to be in the classroom for any specific amount of time), Covington says her focus is on individualized attention and developing close relationships with her students and their parents, making education a kind of team effort. The in-class curriculum isn’t geared toward traditional subjects — she says students learn those through their virtual schoolwork — but rather hinges on developing life skills, such as time management (students choose when they eat, take breaks and work on certain activities) and respect for others.

“We’re working with kids who might not have been able to do well in the public school system, kids who may have been bullied, kids who might not be able to focus well, kids who might not work well in large settings,” Covington says. “For some reason, that kind of schooling doesn’t fit them. And we don’t want those kids to fall through the cracks. That’s the main goal: Don’t let them fall through the cracks.”

Covington almost acts as an extra parent to her students. She’s the liaison between their virtual-school teachers and their parents, supervising her students in a way that resembles a mother making sure her children are doing their work. She allows them to make their own scheduling decisions, gently guiding them when they need help.

“I really just want what’s best for these kids,” she says.

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