Switching to Online School: Step by Step

Online learning takes many forms. Decide why you want to go remote — and the rest will fall into place.

Prisma Staff
January 31, 2023

Prisma is the world’s most engaging virtual school that combines a fun, real-world curriculum with powerful mentorship from experienced coaches and a supportive peer community

Now part of mainstream education, online school is a vast category that implies only that teachers and students in separate physical locations use technology to connect. That leaves everything else: curriculum, educational philosophy, yearly calendar, daily schedule, social aspects, cost, parent involvement — the list goes on.

Parents might start exploring online school options because of issues in a traditional public or private, brick-and-mortar school: problems with bullying, challenges accommodating learning differences (ADHD, dyslexia, twice-exceptional students), lack of inclusivity in their current community, or a child with an acute case of “I-don’t-care-itis.” Others are interested specifically in having their child learn from home but don’t want all the responsibilities of homeschooling, perhaps because of their work commitments.

We’ll walk you through things to think about as you consider switching to virtual school, starting with the kinds of schools that are out there.


Online School vs. Homeschool

If your child is currently attending a traditional in-person school, and know you want something different, you'll need to decide first whether what you want is to attend an online school or to homeschool.

While occasionally treated as similar, several distinct differences exist between homeschooling and online school. Typically, signing up for an online school mirrors the process of joining a conventional brick-and-mortar institution, while homeschooling necessitates a unique registration procedure, varying by state.

There are many different styles of homeschooling to explore if your family is interested in that option. Homeschooling families often select varied curricula for diverse subjects, crafting a customized educational experience, which, although beneficial for tailored learning, may require significant effort from parents. Conversely, online schools provide a complete (and frequently accredited) curriculum.

What kinds of online schools are available?

As online education has taken off during the pandemic, learners opting out of the traditional classroom have no shortage of high quality options.

Online public schools

Virtual academies are a part of the public school landscape: individual school districts and states offer options for kindergarten through high school students living in their boundaries. These are tuition-free options and are intended for families living in the district who want more scheduling flexibility.

Since public school districts mostly focus their attention on their in-person schools, and don't design their curriculum to be online-first, online public schools have a mixed reputation for quality. Some families report that the in-person curriculum doesn't always translate well to the digital environment, or that teachers aren't able to connect with virtual students.

Private online schools

Private online schools charge tuition. Parents opt for private schools over public ones for their unique offerings, such as innovative curricula, superior academics, enhanced support, or additional extracurricular activities. Those choosing virtual private schools are in pursuit of an exceptional educational experience. For example, while online public school students perform worse than their in-person peers, Prisma learners score 150% better than traditionally schooled peers in reading and math.

Staffing is the priciest aspect of any educational model! Generally, the more expensive the program, the greater the level of teacher support your child is likely to receive. Online public schools typically exhibit a teacher:student ratio significantly higher than that of traditional schools. It's crucial to inquire about the teacher:student ratio at any private institution (ours stands at 1:14) and the frequency of personalized support from teachers (at Prisma, students consistently engage in one-on-one sessions with their learning coach, alongside receiving daily feedback and guidance).

The actual cost of tuition might not always align with the initial price presented. Numerous online private institutions, including Prisma, provide scholarships based on financial need. In the United States, there's a current surge in educational choice legislation, enabling families to allocate government funds towards educational expenses, often through ESAs or vouchers. Further information on your state's options can be found here.

Prisma's online school model

Prisma is the world's most engaging online school. Our program offers a comprehensive, full-time, accredited alternative for families who feel constrained or let down by traditional in-person education. What sets Prisma apart is our personalized, project based curriculum; all-star learning coaches (we receive 500 applicants for any one coach we hire); and uncommonly friendly learner social community.

  1. Grade Levels Served: 4-8th graders in our Middle School program; 9-12th graders in our High School program
  2. Approach: We believe learning should be “hard fun,” hands-on, real-world, personalized, and driven by intrinsic motivation. At Prisma, all academic subjects are covered through rigorous interdisciplinary themes kids love like Food Lab, Unsolved Mysteries, and Wild Inventions. We use a mastery-based system where kids earn badges on their accredited transcript for demonstrating their skills in all subjects covered in traditional school, from Essay Writing to Entrepreneurship to Chemistry.
  3. Support: Each learner is matched with a cohort of peers and a learning coach who meets with them regularly, provides feedback on their work, and facilitates daily interactive lessons. We also offer our Parent-Coach program for experienced homeschool parents or educators who want to continue taking a leading role in their child's education, for a lower cost than our regular tuition.
  4. Tuition: $9,750 (Middle School); $10,750 (High School); and $4,800 (Parent-coach).  

Things to think about when switching to online school

Consider your child’s learning style and the kind of learning experience they need. (You may start with the things that don’t work and that they don’t like and work backwards.) Then you can take the time to match those must-haves and nice-to-haves with the online options.

  1. Curriculum: What is the curriculum like? Are there traditional subjects? What electives are offered? Will the curriculum be different than the current school my child attends? To what extent will my child be able to discover and develop their interests?
  2. Delivery: How is the material delivered? While a totally asynchronous program provides the ultimate flexibility to go at your own pace, live online classes, workshops and events offer opportunities for socializing and community connection.
  3. Schedule: Does the school day and school year schedule meet my child’s and my family’s needs? If necessary, can you enroll part-time? Can you start at any point during the school year?
  4. Supervision: How involved are the instructors/coaches? How involved are parents expected to be?
  5. Community: Are there opportunities for social interaction, either in-person or online? How closely do students work together? Are there opportunities for students to showcase their learning at the end of each period? (For example, Prisma hosts an Expo day at the end of each cycle, where learners present their projects to the larger Prisma community of coaches, learners and families.)

Steps for Switching to Online School

If you've decided you definitely want to do online school instead of regular homeschooling, here are the steps you should follow: 

  1. Decide when to make the switch. Some families choose to switch mid-year, and some choose to wait until the beginning of the next school year. This decision may depend on when your online school of choice has availability, too.
  2. Decide whether a public or private option will better meet your family's needs. If you're not sure, schedule info sessions and visit days with multiple types of programs.
  3. Evaluate each school option after attending info sessions, visit days, and any other trial periods available to you. This is important to make sure you find the right fit! Prisma offers parent info sessions, sample visit days, and previews of curriculum during our admissions process.
  4. Apply for online school. You may wish to apply for multiple options, especially if your family needs a scholarship.
  5. Withdraw from your school. This process works differently at each school, so inquire with administration. Unless the current school situation is so bad that an emergency withdrawal is necessary, waiting until admission has been gained to an alternate program is usually a good idea before withdrawing.
  6. Start online school! Remember that there is usually an adjustment period to any new format of learning. So don't worry if the first few weeks or months are bumpy! However, if a program really isn't working, consider switching to another online school. Each program is different! 

More Online Schooling Resources to Explore

6 Best Online Middle Schools

5 Best Online High Schools

Project-Based Online School: How It Works

Online School for Gifted Learners: How It Works

How We Build a Sense of Community in Online Learning

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