Around 8 a.m. on a typical Monday morning in Blissfield, Mich., Heather Bowser and family are not rushing out the door, packing last-minute lunches or chasing after the school bus like so many American families; instead, she and her two boys run their own schedule, thanks to the freedom and personalization of virtual learning. “We love the flexibility of online schooling,” says Bowser, a Michigan Connections Academy (MICA) parent. “Not only can we spend more time as a family, but my children also have the privilege of working at their own pace. That is not always the case in traditional brick and mortar schools.” Virtual learning is most often administered through Internet-based educational programs that seek to simulate the in-person schooling experience, while also providing students with customized learning programs, flexible scheduling options and an interactive social space. Rising to popularity near the end of the last decade, virtual learning has provided thousands of American families with an affordable, successful alternative to traditional schooling. Following the same general structure, most virtual learning schools provide students with the appropriate materials to complete various homework assignments, tests and quizzes as a part of their multi-dimensional curriculum. K12 Online, the world’s leading provider of online learning programs, opened Michigan Virtual Charter Academy (MVCA) in 2010 and most recently Michigan Great Lakes Virtual Academy (MGLVA), which will begin serving students for the 2013-2014 school year. According to the Lansing Development Manager for K12, Shelley Davis Mielock, both schools are “focused on providing the best education possible to the students of Michigan in a way that is individualized to each students’ unique strengths and weaknesses.” To ensure said educational excellence, “the schools administer a performance assessment in the first couple of weeks of school in math and language arts to determine their level of placement.” Outside of their highly touted curriculum, K12 schools understand that flexibility and personalization are crucial for educational success. “Advanced students can work through our program at an accelerated rate, families who travel frequently don’t have to be concerned about missing school and students who struggle with the sometimes intimidating social environment of brick and mortar schools can focus on their studies. This flexible learning environment works for students’ individual needs, goals and family life,” explains Davis Mielock. A second option is Michigan Connections Academy, a branch of Connections Academy that opened its virtual doors in 2010. MICA works to provide high-quality education while also encouraging a positive life balance for students K-12. Rachel Smith, spokesperson for MICA, contends, “our program is intentionally designed to embrace the life outside the classroom, so students are empowered to go for their goals— whether that means devoting time to perfecting their abilities in a sport or achieving a level of education they previously thought impossible.” Complimenting this mentality are MICA’s various clubs and activities, as well as an “extensive list of electives, including the new Juilliard eLearning courses, the first-ever online music education courses from the world-famous conservatory,” explains Smith. If you’re looking for a more specified virtual learning center, Connections Academy’s newest school entitled Great Lakes Cyber Academy (GLCA) is a 9-12 online school that will begin serving students throughout Michigan in the fall of 2013. GLCA provides scheduling options that allow high school students to move toward graduation at their own pace, including a track that enables them to graduate early. As with Michigan Connections Academy, GLCA also provides award-winning curriculum, state-of-the-art technology and talented teachers unique to the high school level to assure a well-balanced, comprehensive education. This simulated high school experience will thankfully be without the bullying and social media obsession sometimes known to deter crucial educational success. Parents such as Bowser, who has one son going into 6th grade and another who recently graduated from MICA, have cited struggles with bullying, social media, student neglect and negative teaching experiences as reasons for making the switch from public to online schooling. “The social pressures and standardized curriculum were making it difficult for my children to focus on their studies” explains Bowser, “but virtual schooling has made them excited to learn — and they have their grades to show for it.” Thankfully, this successful alternative won’t break your bank. The cost is very similar to that of a public school; families are expected to pay to replenish school supplies and attend field trips, but most programs, including books and curriculums, are provided for free upon enrollment. The only unique aspect of this school system is a required reliable Internet connection. The cost, along with individualized learning, flexible scheduling options and parent involvement combine to create quite the appealing package. Parents well suited to the public or private school way of life, however, have expressed concern over the traditional socialization involved with in-person learning, as well as technology’s general ability to inspire and engage students effectively.