How online students attend prom, despite never meeting many classmates

Posted at 8:20 PM, May 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-23 00:56:36-04

Dozens of students at one Arizona prom attend the same schools, but most never met in person.

The strangers, who attend two online schools, dance in unison to prom staples like "YMCA" in a Chandler Boys & Girls Club gym.

Nearly 12,000 Arizona kids attend online school, according to 2015-2016 average daily count data. Sophomore Emme Gillespie made the switch four years ago, due to her type 1 diabetes.

"It was hard for me to wake up in the morning," Emme said. "I had to go to the nurse before lunch, and it was just too much for me."

Emme likes the "flexibility" of her school day, and she can attend class from her bedroom in her pajamas. Teachers for online schools, like Elizabeth Nelson from Arizona Virtual Academy, also typically work from home.

"We teach live classes, just like you would in a traditional school," said Nelson, who is a math teacher. However, the teachers typically only give the lesson once a day, instead of 5 or 6 class periods. Afterward, students can watch a recording.

"It gives us more time to dig into their [students'] data to be able to provide support, help labs, small group instruction," Nelson said.

Teachers say going "virtual" takes adjustment.

"You have to learn different ways to determine whether they're actually getting the material that you're teaching or not," Nelson said. "You can't physically see that look of 'Ah-Ha' or 'What in the world is she saying?'"

"I think it's easier to focus on my work instead of everyone around me in school," online student Whitney James said. Emme said there are some downfalls.

"Sometimes it can be overwhelming because I'll miss a couple of assignments, and then I have to do it all at once," she said.

However, socialization is less of a problem than the students anticipated. Both Whitney and Emme said they've maintained old friendships. The online schools also arrange large and small events throughout the year, including last Saturday's prom.

"It's really fun," Emme said.