Guest Post: Big things often start small — the Florida Virtual story

This blog post originally appeared on the Education Innovating blog run by Education Evolving from 2010 to 2011. It has now been merged into our main blog.

Editor’s note: Each Friday we feature guest bloggers that are involved in rethinking what is possible with schooling and the education system.

Julie Young, President and CEO of Florida Virtual School, describes the appeal of online learning, and the dramatic growth the organization has sustained over the past 15 years. It is a cogent reminder that substantial innovations often start small—in the case of FVS, with 77 students.

When we started this adventure almost 15 years ago, we were just a blip on the radar screen, and many people thought that’s all we would ever be. However, it wasn’t long before people in Florida and outside the state began to sit up and take notice.

We hit upon a principle very early on that has been the strength and foundation of our program. We recognized that the beauty of online learning is the individualization it can provide; along with the removal of time and pace restrictions. When those limitations are removed, we have found over and again that students can indeed learn, even though they might not have been successful in a traditional classroom environment.

Now, that’s not to say we believe online learning is some kind of cure-all for every student, but it is a great option for many. We also recognize the reasons students choose online learning are as varied as the students themselves. Some need to take a course that simply isn’t offered in their school. Some may need to fix a scheduling conflict in order to take a favorite elective. Some students use our courses because they travel in order to compete athletically, or perhaps they are performers. Some students may need to make up a credit. Whatever the reason, the point is these students have an option where there was none before.

We started with just 77 students. In the coming year, we expect to serve over 100,000 students. We are so proud of all we’ve been able to accomplish on behalf of students, and we have to give a great deal of credit to the students, families, and school districts we serve.

Florida Virtual School now offers more than 100 courses, and we’ve been honored to play a leadership role to ensure that online learning opportunities blossom for Kindergarten–12th grade students all over the nation. Today, there are online learning offerings in almost every state for K–12 students, and Florida Virtual School has played a direct role in assisting many other states in getting started. Florida has truly been the nation’s leader in this arena, and others are still looking to us to provide ongoing leadership. Speaking of other states, Florida Virtual School has a Global Services division that provides many options to non-Florida students and school districts.

Some are always curious as to how we are funded, and that’s a great question. Florida Virtual School is a state funded entity, therefore Florida taxpayers and legislative support make our program possible! We are continuing to identify efficiencies in any way possible to save the state money as we promote digital learning in the state of Florida and beyond.

Check out our YouTube channel to learn more about what our students, parents, teachers and administrators are saying about us!

Image: Julie Young

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