Jennifer Jerome had wanted her son Austin to attend a traditional brick-and-mortar public school at least through elementary school, but by second grade it was apparent PA Virtual Charter School would be a better option for him. Because he is autistic, Austin struggled to pay attention in a traditional classroom.
“I would actually volunteer in the school just to be able to observe him in class,” Mrs. Jerome said. “He wasn’t paying attention to the teacher. He would watch what the other 27 students in his class were doing to make sure they were doing their school work first. He wasn’t really learning.”
She and her husband, Donald Jerome, considered sending him to a different school specifically for students with autism, but the school could not guarantee he would be in a classroom with other higher functioning students with autism. The most viable option seemed to be to enroll him in cyber school with his stepsister Ashlie Stevens, who started at PA Virtual in sixth grade. Ashlie is now a sophomore at PA Virtual.
At the time Austin transferred to PA Virtual, he was in danger of being held back at his traditional school – performing far beyond what was expected of students his age. Almost four years later, Austin has begun sixth grade and is now working at grade level. Before deciding on PA Virtual for Ashlie, Mrs. Jerome researched at least four other cyber schools.
Ashlie and Austin both enjoy attending PA Virtual and are doing well in their classes, but the cyber school experience has especially benefited Austin.“I thought it was going to be this huge battle to get him to participate, but once he got started he loved it,” Mrs. Jerome said. “In the elementary school, he would never raise his hand. At PA Virtual, he clicks away on his computer mouse and is fully engaged in his online classes.”
In addition to his academic achievement, another transformation occurred in his behavior. Austin used to come home from school and have what Mrs. Jerome described as “meltdowns,” where he would lay on the floor kicking and screaming and banging his head.
Mrs. Jerome believes cyber schools can be a better option for children with autism and other learning disorders that make it difficult for children to focus on learning in a physical classroom. PA Virtual provides Austin with a distraction-free, online classroom environment. She also learned techniques to help Austin stay focused on his school work, which seems to be easier for him as an autistic student in a cyber school environment.
Although she had hoped Austin would have the opportunity to socialize with other children all the way through elementary school as Ashlie did, both children participate in an after-school program affiliated with the Boys and Girls Club of America at the Sara Heinz House in Pittsburgh. Austin also interacts with other children who participate in the Lunch Bunch, a group of PA Virtual students who meet online through the school to socialize while eating their lunch at home and participate in supervised games and activities.
“All I wanted is for them to learn, and my kids are learning at PA Virtual without having to worry about fitting in or being bullied,” Mrs. Jerome said. “I know they are learning more at PA Virtual than they would be if they attended the public schools in our neighborhood.”