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PA Cyber clubs encourage and promote socialization opportunities

Mar 14, 2017

One of the most popular questions to arise when a student enrolls in PA Cyber pertains to socialization.

There are many social opportunities available in person for students and families through the Family Link program, but chances for socialization also exist online within the school's robust club program.

All students are encouraged to join a club and participate in activities, according to Jane Camp, supervisor of student events.

"At PA Cyber, we want our students to get involved so that they feel like they're part of the school community," Camp said. "I think the more they feel a part of PA Cyber, the better they do."

Joining a club is one of the quickest, easiest ways for PA Cyber peers to meet and mingle. Ranging in topics from languages and art to history and science exploration, about 20 clubs are open to students at the high school, middle school and elementary levels.

Clubs meet online twice a month using Blackboard Collaborate and students stay connected through discussion boards and chats through Buzz. With such variety covering a wide range of interests, Camp, who oversees clubs and events, said students should have no problem meeting others with similar interests.

Art Club encourages collaboration and discussion, as well as sharing artwork such as paintings, drawings, sculptures and sewing, according to club advisor Amy O'Brien. The club is a good fit for students who aren't able to attend many Family Link events.

"We are an open-minded club that encourages each other to think outside the box and try new things," O'Brien said. "Our students are spread out all around PA, so it's difficult to do field trips, but we do offer the chance to collaborate and share as much as we can."

As a cyber school teacher, Erin Butler has found that her students are often less isolated than they would be in traditional schooling. She believes their social experience is in many ways of a higher quality than they would have available to them.

As the Science Club advisor, she said the club gives students who love science an outlet to share their enthusiasm in a nonjudgmental environment with peers who feel the same way and have similar abilities. She notes that the club also works at creating a safe community for the students.

Science Club students discuss any and all science facets and everyone can have a voice. They meet weekly and have teams of students that look into current events, science topics, making memes and setting up physical projects. The teams collaborate throughout the week via email, have several meet ups a year, and take field trips to places such as the Carnegie Science Center and the Open Heart Surgery Observation, in different regions of the state.

This year they also are getting together to do science. In December, the club had its first Live Online Faraday Christmas Lecture. A couple students in Butler met and did science demonstrations and tricks for an online audience. This spring, they plan on launching a balloon equipped with a camera and sensors to the edge of space, or Project Archimedes.

"As club advisor I have come to understand that the social part of the club is the key to getting everyone involved, excited and ready to learn. As a cyber teacher, I know that the potential exists for our students to become isolated. My experience, however, has been much the opposite."

"When putting all of that side by side with the social aspect of traditional schooling, I think there is no comparison," Butler said. "Cyber school makes it possible for students who love pushing themselves intellectually to find and enjoy each other. In other environments, they often hide their abilities, thinking no one else loves learning the way they do."

Many clubs are also student run, which Camp said increases engagement. Club advisors offer suggestions and post themes to spark discussion. But students elect officers, choose club topics to discuss, and pick places for club outings.

In Book Club, for example, students choose the books they want to read. In Newspaper Club, members help run the club, gaining invaluable experience in leadership positions. French Club members planned several field trips this year — to a crepêrie, bowling, and an upcoming dinner dance in May.

Students also get involved in good deeds. One example is Bible Club, whose members do community service through "hoodies from the heart," a project that involves collecting new clothing for homeless students.

For high schoolers, there is an emphasis on grades and achievement. Students who do well academically — maintaining at least a 2.5 grade point average and staying on pace with school work — are eligible to join one or two clubs.

Student Council, open to high school students, is a club that requires an academic advisor's recommendation as part of the process to get in, Camp said.

Other clubs have their own honor societies. Members of the German Club who belong to the German National Honor Society are starting their own tutoring program to help their peers in German. Art Club members have the opportunity to apply to the National Art Honor Society. At graduation, seniors get special cords to adorn their graduation attire and signify their achievement.

When DECA, or Distributive Education Clubs of America, started out, only a few students made it from districts to the state competition. This year, about 13 students representing the school's DECA chapter went to states in Hershey. Members captured awards and honors. Several are now heading to the international competition.

Club advisor Kelly Romasco said DECA is designed to develop future leaders in the skills of marketing, management and entrepreneurship in any field students choose to pursue. DECA gives students the chance to network with business professionals and other peers with similar future goals and objectives.

DECA students also have opportunities to apply for scholarships to colleges across the nation.

"We are so proud of all of our students for the hard work and dedication they put into not only DECA, but also their school work and other activities," Romasco said.

The club program is continuing to grow. This year saw some newly added clubs for elementary pupils and Camp said there are exciting ideas in the works to add other new elementary clubs next year.

Elementary students in grades 3-6 can currently join the Introductory to Foreign Language club, or Coding I for grades 1-2 and Coding II for grades 3-5. All have been well received.

"The kids absolutely love the clubs. They are enthusiastic and excited about them. Clubs are really, really popular with the elementary students this year," Camp said.

Camp said there are several ideas and suggestions for new middle and elementary level clubs. They will be announced in the fall.

"I think the club program as it stands now is really robust and will continue to grow as we add different offerings," Camp said.

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About PA Cyber

Serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade, the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School (PA Cyber) is one of the largest, most experienced, and most successful online public schools in the nation. PA Cyber's online learning environments, personalized instructional methods, and choices of curricula connect Pennsylvania students and their families with state-certified and highly-qualified teachers, and rich academic content that is aligned to state standards. Founded in 2000, PA Cyber is headquartered in Midland (Beaver County) and maintains a network of support offices throughout the state. As a public school, PA Cyber is open for enrollment by any school-age child residing in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and does not charge tuition to students or families.