A Milwaukee Parent’s Guide to Virtual Education + Homeschooling | 2020 Education Resources for Parents

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2020 has thrown parents a lot of curveballs, not the least of which has been an uncertainty surrounding schooling for our children. For many parents, this new environment has prompted questions and curiosity about virtual education and homeschool options.

This resource is here to help parents learn more about virtual education and homeschooling options and resources so they can make the most informed decision for their family.

We’ve enlisted the help of a veteran homeschooling mom who will be answering some frequently asked questions and sharing many resources available to Milwaukee homeschool families. In addition, we are fortunate to have virtual education options available as well! Our community is bursting with groups, classes, resources, experiences, and events for these families.

A special thank you to our Presenting Sponsor, eAchieve Academy!

eAchieve Academy

eAchieve Academy is Wisconsin’s leading online elementary, middle and high school. An independent, tuition-free online public charter school operated by the School District of Waukesha, eAchieve Academy features a flexible, individualized approach to learning implemented by experienced, Wisconsin-certified teachers.

Accredited online classes equip Wisconsin elementary, middle and high school students with the tools to flourish academically and professionally. Parents and students fully control the balance of schooling, extra curriculars and skill building necessary for college and career success.

Even better – it’s FREE for Wisconsin residents under 21.

eAchieve Academy Virtual Education Information and FAQs

Switching from a traditional school to an online learning environment is a big step for many families. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of questions about how online middle, high and elementary school works, the costs and other general questions. Learning your Wisconsin district school options and comparing them to eAchieve can be a process and these FAQs are here to help! Have a question that isn’t answered below? Head to the eAchieve Academy FAQs page for more!

A virtual charter school is defined in Wis. Stats. § 115.001 (16) as “a charter school under contract with a school board under s. 118.40 in which all or a portion of the instruction is provided through means of the Internet, and the pupils enrolled in and instructional staff employed by the school are geographically remote from each other.” The terms “virtual school” and “online school” are interchangeable.
In Wisconsin, homeschooling is technically called Home-Based Private Education. Homeschooling families choose their own curriculum and the parent is also the teacher. In virtual education, the school provides the teachers, curriculum, resources, assessments, etc. The parent’s role in virtual education is to assist the student and monitor their progress.
eAchieve Academy serves students in K5 through 12th grade up to age 21.

Any student who would benefit from an online alternative to traditional classroom-based school is welcome at eAchieve Academy.

Wisconsin residents can attend eAchieve tuition-free through the state’s open enrollment program. Out-of-state and International students can enroll on a tuition basis. Parents may choose to purchase a printer, laptop insurance, a school yearbook or miscellaneous school supplies, but they are not required. Families may be asked to travel to a regional site for standardized testing once a year. There are optional field trips and activities that may require travel and/or admission fees. There are a few classes, mostly at the high school level, where students are charged a fee for specialized textbooks, lab kits, software, etc.
Each full time student who starts the school year at eAchieve receives a new laptop computer. Once they complete the entire school year, the laptop is theirs to keep. Students who are entering their fifth year at eAchieve will be eligible for a new laptop. Families must provide their own Internet connection. At the end of each semester, families receive a $60 stipend to help defray the cost of providing Internet access. Each student is provided a Google account which gives them access to Gmail, Google Drive, Google Docs, etc. and access to online textbooks and other online educational resources.
Yes. More than 1,800 students have received their regular high school diploma from eAchieve Academy so far.  We also offer a competency-based high school diploma program for senior-aged students who are credit deficient.
Wisconsin’s annual Regular Open Enrollment application period is February – April. There is also an Alternative Open Enrollment application period that starts July 1 for families who missed the regular open enrollment deadline or whose situation has changed since the regular open enrollment period ended. eAchieve Academy accepts Alternative Open Enrollment applications from July 1 through about April 15.
Yes. Teachers hold live classes we call “eSessions” in which students can interact with their teachers and each other in a collaborative online environment. There are also several family oriented field trips and social activities planned throughout the year. Most eAchieve students socialize with their peers in their local community by participating in club or recreational sports leagues, 4-H Club, church youth groups, library programs, fine arts organizations or volunteer activities.
About 15% of eAchieves student population has special education needs. These students meet regularly with a special education teacher in one-on-one web conferences to work on study skills, organization, communication or whatever support is outlined in their Individualized Education Program.
One of the most popular aspects of virtual school is that there is no such thing as a typical day. Students have the flexibility to manage their own schedule. Some students prefer more structure while others like to make it up as they go. Some like to get an early start, others do their best work a little later in the day. Parents can really help students figure out what works best for them. Elementary students spend about 4-5 hours a day on school work, while middle and high school students put in about 6-8 hours.
eAchieve is online school so there is a fair amount of screen time, but students also read books, print out worksheets, perform experiments, do physical projects or activities and take breaks when they need to. Students usually arrange their schedule so they can participate in the live eSessions. They spend the rest of their time working independently on activities and assignments that must be completed each week. Some students work hard Monday – Thursday and take Fridays off!
Participation in mandatory Wisconsin state testing is an expectation for all eAchieve students, and parents are able to request waivers based on specific needs or extenuating circumstances.
Teachers are never more than an email or phone call away if students have questions. They can even request a one-on-one web conference. When a student emails or calls a teacher, they typically get a reply within 24-hours.
At eAchieve Academy, we believe that eliminating inequities begins with each of us. We see students as people with assets and aspirations and it is our job to help them realize their goals and dreams. We strive to find ways for students to succeed by creating a curriculum and providing instruction that is accessible, rigorous, and relevant to students’ culture and identity.
Interested families can get more information by clicking on the Enrollment Info button at eAchieve.com, calling our office at 262-970-1038 or emailing us at [email protected]

Homeschool Information and FAQs

Jumping into homeschooling can feel very overwhelming at first! Local mom Jess Collier is a mom of five fantastic kiddos and is passionate about homeschooling and the opportunities it has afforded her family. She’s helping answer some of the biggest questions and concerns many families have about homeschooling and pointing you in the direction of many local resources that can help you make an informed decision and to get started!

Want more help launching your homeschooling journey?

Want to Try Homeschooling but Have No Clue Where to Start? Feeling Overwhelmed? THIS GUIDE IS FOR YOU.

This course will walk you through creating your goals and values as a homeschooling family, and using those values to choose curriculum, create rhythms in your day, and prioritize your activities. Jess will share the tips and tricks gleaned over years as an elementary and preschool teacher and as a full time homeschool mom of five.

When you purchase this course, you’ll have LIFETIME ACCESS to the all the content – five modules of video and written content, TWENTY videos teaching you all the ins and outs of homeschooling, plus bonus downloads to help you develop and plan your homeschool year.

The Basics & Getting Started

Homeschooling is a general term for learning at home. Under the umbrella of homeschooling, there are countless methods, styles, and curriculum you can use. No two families are going to homeschool in the same way. Homeschooling is more than just choosing a curriculum and teaching your kids to read and write. Homeschooling is a lifestyle of learning together as a family, in the way that works best for YOUR family.

When I started homeschooling, it was because my oldest child already knew how to read and write. Rather than put him in a kindergarten classroom that would be teaching him a lot of academics he already knew, I decided to let him learn at his own pace.

The longer we’ve homeschooled, though, the more it’s become our way of life. It’s not about the curriculum, but about teaching our kids to be lifelong learners. It’s about letting our kids follow their interests and learn in the way that’s best for them. It’s about being together as a family and having the freedom to spend time outside, not give up playtime, and learn about what WE want to learn.

Wisconsin laws make it really easy to homeschool your child. The basic gist of it is this: fill out the PI-1206 form (if your child is six years old by September 1). This must be completed for every child six or older every year, and needs to be finished by October 15.

By completing this form, you agree that you will provide 875 hours of instruction to your child throughout the year. This does NOT mean that your child needs to sit at a desk or do book work for 875 hours. You also agree to provide a “sequentially progressive curriculum of fundamental instruction in reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and health.

*If you are withdrawing your child from public school, however, this should be done by the beginning of the school year. You should also notify your school that your child will not be returning. You are not required to give them a copy of your PI-1206 form.

This website goes into great detail about getting started with homeschooling, including all the legal requirements and more detailed explanations:: homeschooling-wpa.org

No – if your child is enrolled in a public or private virtual school, they are not technically homeschooling. You would NOT fill out the PI-1206 (because they are enrolled in a school already). You are required to follow whatever guidelines your virtual school has in place.

(See the legal requirements for details on how to report to the state that you are homeschooling)

If your child has not been enrolled in a public school, all you need to do is start learning together! You don’t need to choose a curriculum or buy anything special to begin. These tools can be helpful, but they aren’t necessary, especially at a young age. Read lots of books, write and draw together, play math games, and get outside! As your child shows readiness, add in a curriculum that’s appropriate for your child’s ability.

If your child has been enrolled in a public school, many families find it helpful to “deschool” for awhile. This means putting aside any curriculum and creating new routines and rhythms together. This is a time for “life schooling” – reading books, taking field trips, learning about birds while you’re hiking or measurements through baking, etc. You do not need to rush to find the “perfect” curriculum before the school year begins. When your child is ready and you have had time to see how your child learns best, add in a curriculum or learning resources that fit your lifestyle as well as your child’s learning style ability.

State funds do not assist traditional homeschooling families. If your child is enrolled in a virtual public school, there may be funds available for curriculum or programs.

Homeschooling can cost as little or as much as you want it to. There are countless free resources and curriculum available online. You can get books from the library or borrow from friends. You don’t need to buy a lot of supplies!

Curriculum and Logistics

Most families do not just adhere to one specific homeschooling approach or style. This website has an overview of different homeschooling styles: https://www.time4learning.com/homeschooling-styles/

 

Don’t get caught up in choosing the “right” one. Just start learning together, and as time goes on, you’ll figure it out. If a curriculum doesn’t seem like a good fit – toss it and try something different. Your child(ren) will continue to learn, no matter what you’re using.

Here’s a homeschooling secret: the curriculum you choose is actually not the most important choice! So much learning happens outside of a curriculum, so don’t get stuck on this. You can begin learning without a formal curriculum by reading books, creating art, going on field trips, etc. You are NOT required to have a formal curriculum to homeschool your child.

Some questions to ask when choosing a formal curriculum:

  • Is it too expensive? Don’t make a huge financial investment in a curriculum if you aren’t sure it’s a good fit. Ask in local homeschool groups if you can see it in person, find reviews online, or look for online samples on the curriculum website.
  • Do you need a curriculum for this subject? Many topics can be learned without a formal curriculum. For example, science can be learned while exploring nature or doing experiments you find on YouTube. Reading a book together about a topic and drawing a picture/writing about it doesn’t require a curriculum.
  • Does the curriculum fit your family’s lifestyle/values? If your family values spending time outside, but the curriculum requires you to spend hours in front of a computer, it may not be a good fit.
  • Do you want a curriculum that is open and go (no prep involved), or do you like to piece things together and create your own curriculum?
  • Are you teaching multiple ages together? Look for a curriculum that is designed to teach a variety of levels together. This will save you money and time.
  • Can I find reviews or examples of this curriculum? Do I know anyone who uses this curriculum, and can I see it in person? Cathy Duffy has reviewed several homeschool curriculum programs. Consider her book 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum or visit her website.

You will never cover everything. 🙂 Even when your child is enrolled in a public school, there is no way they will cover everything. The most important guideline to follow is making sure that your child is progressing.

If you are only homeschooling temporarily, you may want to consider following the state standards to know that your child is “on track” to return to public school. If you are in it for the long haul and planning to homeschool for a number of years, you have a long time to “fill in the gaps” that naturally occur in any learning environment. If you’re planning to homeschool long term, view your child’s education as a marathon, not a sprint. There’s no need to cover every subject or every topic.

There are tons of options out there to ensure that your homeschooling curriculum is inclusive and focuses on underrepresented voices. Here’s just a few resources to get parents started:

In our house, we don’t follow a strict daily schedule. Each day could look a little different and the amount of time we sit down and “do school” could be different day to day. Remember, learning doesn’t just come from books. So while Wisconsin requires 875 hours per year, think outside the box for things that “count” toward your hours.

No!! I actually AM a licensed teacher, but think it hindered more than helped me. Learning at home looks MUCH different than it does in a classroom, and I had to unlearn a lot of ideologies that work for the classroom, but not at home.

We’re so fortunate to live in a time when we have information literally at our fingertips. We can find resources, curriculum, or virtual lessons for every single topic. But the ultimate goal of homeschooling isn’t about learning specific topics, it’s about raising kids who love learning and teaching them how to learn. So learning together as a family is encouraged! I don’t have to be the one with all the answers – we discover them together.

No! While it can be helpful to have a spot in your house to contain any homeschooling books or supplies, many families homeschool without a designated room. Remember, you’re not recreating school at home, so if you do create a space to do school at home, you don’t need to make it feel like school. In our home, we have a room that has tables for doing projects and art, bookshelves that house our many books, and a desk with a computer. But we don’t do all of our learning there – we sit on the couch, at the kitchen table, on the deck, in the park, in the car… basically wherever we are is our classroom!

The way you set up your learning environment will also depend on what your child needs. If he or she is easily distracted, setting up a desk in a quiet corner could be helpful. If you have a large family, learning together at a large table could be a better fit.

In our house, we typically homeschool year round. But because of the extremes of Wisconsin weather, we do more book work in the winter and less in the summer. During the warmer months, we do a lot more outdoor learning – nature science, outdoor field trips, etc. We take our read-a-louds to the park or bring math books in the car on a road trip. In the colder months, we can spend more time doing science experiments, baking, watching YouTube videos, doing poetry studies, etc. Year round school doesn’t’ have to look the same all year!

If you are following a curriculum, many will have placement tests online to determine your child’s level (especially for math or language arts). For many topics, you can follow your child’s lead – does it hold their interest? Is it challenging but not frustrating?

In many ways, teaching children at different grades/levels is easier! Learning can be social, and older kids can help younger kids or model what younger kids are supposed to do. If you have a large family with multiple children learning at different levels.

No, Wisconsin does not require standardized tests for homeschoolers (remember, the rules may be different if you are virtual schooling, as this is NOT considered homeschooling). If your child is planning to attend college, they may wish to take the ACT or SAT as they approach the appropriate time.

Keeping records or determining grades isn’t necessary in Wisconsin, until high school. Keeping records or examples of completed work in the elementary/middle grades is a great way to show progress for your own personal reflection, but isn’t necessary. The great thing about homeschooling is, you don’t need a letter or percentage grade to determine whether or not your child has grasped a concept. If your child needs more work, simply go back and do it again (and maybe try learning it in a different way!). Many homeschoolers rely on non-traditional assessments such as observation or listening to their child talk about a subject to determine their understanding. There’s no need to compare your child to any other child, so grades aren’t necessary!

This website gives you all the information you’d need to know about the technicalities of homeschooling for high school. I also recommend connecting with other local homeschool families (especially ones who are already doing high school) to get their best tips.

In general, homeschooling does not negatively impact college applications and admissions. Again, I recommend connecting with other local families who have been through the process – they are more than happy to share their wisdom!

Networking & Support

I’ve never felt nervous or afraid of homeschooling, but I think all homeschooling parents have feelings of doubt or inadequacy. It’s easy to compare your child to others or see an idyllic scene on Instagram and wonder why your homeschool doesn’t look like that. Whenever I feel like that, I ask myself: are my kids learning? Is homeschool still working for our family? And then I usually find a podcast to encourage me or another homeschool mom to talk with. Community with other homeschooling parents is so important! If we feel alone in this or try to do it all perfectly, we will quickly burn out or give up.

Unless you’re intentionally trying to keep your kids isolated, there will be plenty of opportunities for socialization! Re-frame your thinking of what socialization looks like. The time kids are in public school is the only time in their life they are only socializing with kids just their age. As an adult, you don’t spend time with only adults exactly your age. Homeschoolers are used to spending their days with kids of all ages!

Join a co-op, be part of a hiking club, go to church, sign up for zoo classes, go on field trips, play at the park, hang out with neighbor kids when they’re home from school, sign up for park and rec sports… These are all great ways to socialize! There is no shortage of groups to join or ways to socialize as a homeschooler.

The end goal of homeschool isn’t just to make kids learn specific subjects. It’s to teach kids to love learning, to solve problems, and to learn HOW to learn. So if you keep this goal in mind, as with all parenting, you have to choose your battles. Is it necessary to push your child to complete an activity on a timeline? Are there emotional or physical needs that need to be met – are they hungry, sleepy, do they need a hug or some connection?

We all need a change of scenery from time to time. Sometimes learning from the park instead of the kitchen table can change a child’s attitude. Try asking your child if they have a different way they’d like to complete their work. Or what would the harm be in calling it a day and coming back with fresh eyes in the morning? This is the freedom of homeschooling – you get to set your schedule!

If your family/support network is unfamiliar with homeschooling, they may not immediately be on board. However, as time goes on, and they see homeschooling in action, they will likely change their mind! If not, the homeschooling community is a great support network. You need to do what’s best for YOU and YOUR FAMILY. 

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Homeschool Virtual Opportunities, Groups, Resources, Experiences, and More

**Keep in mind that as homeschoolers, our kids don’t have formal field trips like the typical class setting. We go places just like we would as a family, sometimes meeting other families there. We also organize our own programs, sometimes with 3-4 other families (or more) just by calling places we would like to go and asking for options. So almost any place you want to go could be a field trip location. In the time of COVID-19, there will be more Virtual Field Trip options available to families that will be great options as well!

COVID-19 Note: Keep in mind that many of these locations will have different policies to keep people safe during COVID-19. New policies may include masks, reserving a time in advance, etc. Some may still be temporarily closed, so be sure to visit the website in advance for more info.

eAcheive Academy – Wisconsin’s leading online elementary, middle and high school. An independent, tuition-free online public charter school operated by the School District of Waukesha, eAchieve Academy features a flexible, individualized approach to learning implemented by experienced, Wisconsin-certified teachers.

Did we miss a great homeschool resource?

Please send us a message and let us know.
Thank you for enriching the lives of Milwaukee Area Parents!

This guide is sponsored by eAchieve Academy, an accredited virtual academy for Wisconsin students. In these challenging times, we hope this guide and these resources help provide valuable options for parents looking for alternative education environments.

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