The McKinley Academy has been such a blessing for our neurodiverse family. Standard in-person learning had been a struggle for Voltaire, and even just making it through a half day of school, without needing to be sent home, was a challenge for him. Staff members, and myself, were having a hard time finding something that would work for him to help him be successful.

When Covid started and everyone was moved to virtual learning, we worried how this new change would affect him, but Voltaire thrived. We saw how good he was doing and then worried what would happen, once he went back to in-person learning. We began discussing whether homeschooling might be our best option, but the thought of doing everything on my own was terrifying. I didn't feel like I was qualified to teach him everything he needed to know, and make sure he was staying where he needed to be academically.

We were then told about the new McKinley Academy that was going to be starting in Manitowoc. His previous IEP team members agreed that this new virtual academy would be an ideal program for Voltaire. We decided to give it a try.

Overall, the program has been amazing! Online learning gives us the convenience of learning from home, in a familiar, sensory friendly, environment. Kids really have the freedom to learn wherever they feel is the most beneficial to them.

When you have sensory issues, and/or special needs, being home greatly limits the distractions and environmental stimuli. Kids have more control over their environment, and their surroundings. Voltaire can easily adjust his setting by being able to move to a new room, or by using noise cancelling headphones, without needing to stop the teacher, or distract other students. He can also use fidget toys, calming devices, his swing, or even a snack, without disrupting his teacher, or classmates.

As a parent the program has been great because it feels like you get many of the benefits of a homeschool environment, but you aren't alone. This program feels like you are part of a team, and the communication between parents and staff is amazing. By having qualified teachers take the lead, allows me the comfort of knowing that my child is learning the things they need to be successful in the future, and are staying on track with their peers, and state/federal requirements. I also feel much more involved and knowledgeable about what my child is learning each day. With in-person schooling, it can sometimes be a challenge getting your child to tell you what they did at school that day, but with virtual learning it almost feels like you are in the class with them, and can be there to help if they need it.

Another benefit with the virtual program has been the smaller class sizes, and the individual attention. It really feels like each student has the time and attention they need. Classes never feel rushed, and the kids can really take their time, and get their questions answered.

Which brings me to another bonus of virtual school, with just how quickly questions can be answered. Whether that is a question a student has, or a question I have. Voltaire likes to know everything, about everything. In a normal school setting this can be an issue because he always wants to ask how things work, or why they work that way. Teachers in a standard school setting can't just stop their lesson and look for an answer. With virtual learning the teachers are already online and have access to all the knowledge the internet has to offer. If they don't know the answer to a question, it only takes minutes for them to look it up, without causing a big delay or distraction. It's also very easy for parents and teachers to communicate any questions they might have. It can be as simple as asking, “Hey Voltaire, can you ask your mom.” Etc.

The staff at McKinley Academy are also phenomenal, and have been incredibly helpful every step of the way. From my initial phone calls to discuss the program, and whether or not it would be a good fit for Voltaire. To his amazing Core teachers, that are so patient with the students, and come up with fun and engaging ways to teach virtually, and really seem to enjoy what they are doing. To his special ed teacher, that goes out of her way to make sure Voltaire always has what he needs. We have nothing but positive things to say about every staff member we have encountered thus far.

Beyond just the above-mentioned benefits, Voltaire's grades have been his best ever! He is really engaging, and retaining the things he is learning, and he looks forward to school every day. We've also noticed since moving to a virtual learning style that his confidence, not only academically, but socially, has grown tremendously.

Our family has seen so many benefits to virtual learning, and the McKinley Academy, not only for Voltaire, and other neurodiverse students, but as a superb overall learning option. We look forward to many successful years with Voltaire as a McKinley Academy student, and our younger children look forward to enrolling into the program as well.

-BritnyLe Gosz

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