With the onset of COVID-19 two years ago, families were forced to make tough decisions about their children’s education. As new technology was implemented, the transition was rocky and communication was lacking. However, as schools and families adjusted to this new rhythm, many found that the right kind of online education isn’t simply an alternative, stop-gap measure during pandemic years–instead, it’s the best way forward.
In 2020, homeschooling rates skyrocketed over 60 percent as families embraced the digital classroom, and as in-person learning began to open up, the rate of homeschooling only dropped 17 percent. Many continue to embrace the benefits of remote learning even when pandemic restrictions no longer dictate their choices. For middle and high school students, an online option also provides the support and expertise students need as they transition to college.
Two Hesitations Families Have
A firm foundation. Many families who choose nontraditional education say that centering learning on a Christian worldview is a priority, but online platforms can be heavy on academics and light on character formation. Is there room for Christian families in virtual education?
Gravitas, the global online extension of The Stony Brook School (SBS), meets the needs of 21st-century students while being grounded in a rich legacy of Christian character and scholarship. Within the safety of growth groups, all students are invited to grapple with big questions while finding purpose and meaning through vulnerability and accountability.
In conjunction with their studies, students are challenged through daily lessons and exercises to pursue a virtuous life focused on love, hope, faith, wisdom, justice, courage, and temperance. “We are looking for students with a strong work ethic, a desire for spiritual growth, and a willingness to engage in deep conversations,” executive director Sean Riley says.
Making friends. Another common concern is the lack of face-to-face socialization that students might enjoy offline. Even before the pandemic shifted our thinking on virtual spaces, researchers from the University of California, Irvine were studying face-to-face versus online relationships to explore whether digital relationships can serve people well. They found that adolescents who interact with friends online experience increased intimacy with their peers and that these relationships often meet the same needs as offline relationships such as self-disclosure, validation, and companionship.
Riley understands the concerns but says that “the worries people have about socialization simply aren’t supported by the research. Our students are in smaller classrooms with live instruction, so there are plenty of opportunities to build community with their peers. We also have an incredibly diverse student body, leading to fantastic cross-cultural learning that would never happen within the walls of most neighborhood schools where student populations represent a very small slice of God’s kingdom.”
Three Reasons to Say Yes
Individualized plans. For many families, the flexibility of online school is the biggest draw. Whether families travel frequently, accommodate athletic or arts schedules, or simply need a different pace or rhythm to thrive, the online school day is a great choice for independent, high-achieving students. Those who might be bored in a traditional classroom can dive deeply into personal passions and work quickly through content they’ve mastered.
Safety and security. Some parents and students have become increasingly concerned about safety, social pressures, and stress in traditional education. Nearly 1 in 3 people aged 13–18 experience some kind of anxiety disorder. In 2020, a startling report from the American Psychological Association declared that stress is a national public health crisis in America. Relatedly, more introverted students find that they can better concentrate on their studies without the taxing social interactions with other students and teachers. The online classroom is a safe space for anyone who feels overwhelmed by more traditional settings.
Preparation for the future. Online platforms can offer a wide range of coursework that might not be available in brick-and-mortar schools, providing stimulus for broadening students’ interests. More and more college preparatory classes are being conducted in online spaces, so students can be better prepared for the university setting.
Whether students are college or career bound, the benefits of online schooling are not just limited to academics. Online education requires students to improve their time management, take personal responsibility for their work, and use clear communication with their peers and teachers–all skills that will benefit them no matter what their future holds.
Stronger Individuals, Stronger Communities
Leadership at Gravitas is especially passionate about access for students who might not have the resources to attend SBS’s boarding campus. When this top-tier Christian boarding school began to feel the pressure of physical space constraints, Riley says, “we started asking ourselves, ‘Do we want to continue to become more elite, or do we want to be more missional?’”
The answer led school leaders to establish an online program that invites students from around the world to attend synchronous classes with their peers. Enrolling students from China, India, Belize, and most recently Ukraine has motivated the school to consider who else they can potentially serve.
The Gravitas online platform is an invitation to students worldwide to take advantage of academic opportunities that are not available where they live. For families seeking a college preparatory experience with a Christian worldview, Gravitas might be the best choice. Find out more about attending Gravitas or partnering with them for global impact.