By Chris Croll
We are fortunate here in Loudoun County to have one of the best school districts in the state (ranked #2 by Niche.com). If your child is thriving in public school—learning, socializing, enjoying the experience—you probably never considered an alternative education model. But if you have a child who isn’t doing well in public school, for whatever reason, you might consider one of the myriad unconventional education programs offered in our area.
Also, parents who have children with one or more “exceptionality” such as a chronic illness, mental health issue, prodigious talent or neuro-atypical brain (gifted, learning disabled or both) might also benefit from exploring some of these education paradigms. Even if your child is a typical student, these programs might rev up your child’s passion for learning.
1:1 Student/Teacher Ratio—When my boys heard about Fusion Academy Loudoun’s “only one teacher and only one student in every classroom” model, one of my kids was super excited and the other one said, “No way! I like having classmates.” This 1:1 model works best for students who would benefit from individualized attention and pacing and who wouldn’t miss the socializing inherent in a busy classroom. Fusion also offers individual tutoring and enrichment classes for students who attend other schools full time.
Home School Cooperatives—Home schooling is in vogue these days, and Northern Virginia has a huge home school community. There are online home school groups, in-person groups, neighborhood groups and even ‘homeschooling via Netflix’ groups. For niche classes, or for subjects (like chess and acting) that require more than one student, there are centers in our area where students can take one-off classes with other students.
Online School—When I decided to online school my 8th grader earlier this year, I had no idea how many options he would have for classes. He is currently taking a full course load of high school level classes through five different education institutions. If you choose the online classes route but do plan to someday re-enroll your child with Loudoun County Public Schools, check to make sure the online schools you choose for any high school level classes are on the LCPS-approved list of providers.
Micro Schools—These are very small schools that will only ever have a handful of students. Elon Musk famously opened a micro school out in California for his children and a few select other tech execs’ kids. Here in Loudoun, IndEd Academy has space for 11 more students in addition to the handful it already has enrolled.
Unschools—Imagine a place where attendance is optional, there are no compulsory exams and students get to decide the curriculum. Embark Center for Self-Directed Learning opened its doors in 2017 and offers this model. These students spend their days exploring topics that interest them, and there is an emphasis on students developing “adulting” skills such as independence, time management and self-advocating.
Private Schools—There are many independent and religion-based private schools that offer small class sizes, a whole-child focus and such enrichment extras as international field trips, hands-on learning, flipped classrooms and robust music, arts and language programs.
Parents say one of the hardest parts of considering an unconventional education model is knowing what to say to neighbors, friends or their mother-in-law when these people ask why in the world parents would consider pulling their child out of the excellent public-school system here in Loudoun. My advice? Simply say, “I felt this was the right path for my child.” After all, our children have different needs and interests. Why should they all attend the same type of school?
Chris Croll is a parenting consultant specializing in educating and raising gifted and twice-exceptional children. She leads the National Center for Gifted Services (NationalCenterforGiftedServices.com) and the nonprofit Loudoun County Parents of Gifted Students (LoCoPOGS.org.