When her son was ready to start Kindergarten, Jen Brodhag knew she wanted to find a place where she could give her children a structured curriculum in the comfort of her own home. Critics of cyber education are often teachers who don’t think that the classroom setting can be mimicked in the home. As a former third grade teacher, when Jen learned about PA Virtual she thought otherwise. In addition to an engaging curriculum, she loved how PA Virtual had accountability and support systems of a traditional public school, but she would also have the ability to share learning experiences with her children in her home.
In 2008, former CEO Dr. Joanne Barnett wanted to launch a program that further engaged parents in the cyber setting as a way to connect families all across the state. The school started looking for parents who could share their experiences with new families, and Jen was a perfect fit. Now the Director of Parent Education and Engagement, Jen Brodhag shares what makes PA Virtual’s Education and Engagement Department so unique!
Q: What types of services does your department at PA Virtual provide to its parents and families?
A: The program has grown so much over the years! We are always looking for feedback and ways to expand our engagement efforts, but here are a few things we are excited to roll out for the 2016-2017 school year:
- New Parent Orientation sessions! These sessions are available online and in person. While these are geared towards news families, sessions are open to any parent who may want a bit of a boost to jump start their school year:
- First-day-of-school jitters? We’ll help calm those nerves.
- Get tips and tricks from veteran PA Virtual parents!
- Attendance and Outings and Tech! Oh, my!online
- Bank Street College of Education Parent Certificate Program: has created a unique professional development opportunity where PA Virtual parents can enroll and take several courses in Bank Street College’s online program. This program is designed to increase parents’ understanding of educational content, theory, and application to directly enhance instruction and achievement at home with their student.
- PA Virtual Microsoft Academy: Allows parents to expand their digital knowledge with courses in Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint
- Parent Ambassador Volunteer Program: Last year we had over 20 parent volunteers!
- The Parent Toolkit and Lynda.com give parents access to endless resources and on demand learning on their terms
Q: How do you successfully engage so many parents in the cyber setting?
A: PA Virtual’s family support and student services departments are crucial to getting our families engaged in the learning process. It is a big part of what sets us apart from other cybers. Each department looks at the whole child and we take the role of parent partner very seriously. We want to give the parents as many resources for success as possible.
In our department we have one full time and 3 part time staff who are all dedicated to parent engagement, but more importantly are all current learning coaches within the school. Personally, I have had three children go through PA Virtual, my youngest is now 16 and will be a junior this year. We can talk to new and even veteran parents and relate to their situations and experiences and help them through the good and bad.
Q: Tell us more about the parent mentorship program!
A: Any parent who needs a little help navigating the land of cyber education can apply for a parent mentor. Parents are matched based on their child’s educational needs and we also try and match mentors with mentees in the same grade level and general geographical location.
Our mentees are matched for the duration of the school year, and work with their parent mentor on a variety of levels based on the tools and support they need to provide the best instruction to their child and support for them as a learning coach.
Our parent ambassadors are volunteers located in almost every region of the state and are a valuable part of our educational experience. We invite volunteers to our professional development with the staff, as well as provide them with additional professional development tools to prepare them for helping others. This past year, we launched two great new programs for our volunteers; the first was a free online course through Stanford University on nutrition – as parents often act as the food services department in the home! The course taught parents how to make healthy choices and meals for their students, and allowed them to share recipes and ideas with one another in an online discussion board. The second program implemented allowed our parents to take online courses through Microsoft IT Academy in areas such as Outlook, Excel, Word and PowerPoint.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in becoming a Parent Ambassador?
A: PA Virtual is always looking for volunteers! If you are interested in becoming a mentor, click here for more information! Many parents find that volunteering doesn’t take nearly as much time as they expected it would, and we work with plenty of parents to balance complex schedules!
A handful of our parent volunteers are former mentees who were significantly impacted by the mentor program and wanted to give back to the school, and we have heard so many stories of volunteers who find the time they give enlightening and rewarding.