GREENVILLE — With the promise of sunnier days and milder weather, March signals the beginning of Ohio’s open enrollment and EdChoice options for the 2021-2022 school year, giving families a variety of educational alternatives to explore.
While COVID has kept many students out of the traditional classroom, some Ohio families are taking a second look at the freedoms afforded by this new hybrid style of learning. For one Greenville family, going “non-traditional” has been the right choice, inspiring a unique blend of music, family and school, where the virtual classroom has become part of living and loving life.
Meeting in 2004 while playing in bands and performing on stage, Darke County natives Shannon and Brittany Clark married, settled in Greenville, and welcomed their first daughter, Nevaeh. As their daughter grew, the couple began considering what kind of school options would work best for their growing family. By 2010, the Clarks took a chance on a new “hybrid” style of public education through the Ohio Connections Academy (OCA), an online, tuition-free public school option open to Ohio all families. Now, over a decade later, the Clarks couldn’t be happier with that initial decision, having also enrolled their son, Island, and daughter, Castle, in the OCA program since kindergarten.
“My husband and I met playing music and we traveled a lot pursuing that love, so when we had kids, we maintained that as much as we could, and continue even today to travel and play music around the country. The kids come with us as we tour, and we often take extended vacations with our whole family,” said Brittany. “We would not have been able to continue this lifestyle with a traditional brick and mortar school.”
In 2019, when their daughter, Nevaeh, joined the group, the family formed a new band , Shannon Clark and the Sugar. The Clarks’ unique sound, described as “Midwest Americana Soul,” was captured in their 2020 single, Carry Me, and recognized as a contender for Best Music Video in multiple film festivals across the U.S., U.K., and Canada.
As a professional working musician, Brittany considered a wide variety of school options before choosing to go virtual.
“When searching for schools for my first daughter to enter kindergarten, I looked for what the best method would be…traditional school, Montessori, or online. I even thought about making up my own curriculum. Once I finally found Ohio Connections Academy, I knew it was that way for our family to go,”explained Brittany. “I loved how available all the kid’s teachers would be, the lesson plans were great, and they had so many electives that the kids could take part in. They also have normal state testing each year, which I appreciated, that way I could be sure that they were learning at a standard level that their peers were. That was my main concern.”
Now, after many years of participating in the OCA program, the Clarks enjoy a balance between school time, home life, and performing on the road, taking advantage of having opportunities to visit many locations of historic and cultural significance.
“The flexibility of an online school allows us to have the freedoms to travel and tour,” said Brittany. “The kids have learned so much being on the road or traveling to different national parks all over the U.S., and are able to combine their real-life experience with their school education.”
As a public online school, OCA encourages and supports enhanced learning opportunities, which is built into the curriculum for each grade level.
“The school is great about hosting field trips several times a year that they call ‘Family Engagement Activities,’” explained Brittany. ”We have been all over the state for these day trips, and have loved visiting museums, zoos, and state parks all over Ohio. It’s really exciting to be invited to places all over the state instead of only places that are close to where we live.”
In addition to being on the road performing, the Clarks are thankful that the online public school offers many course electives, clubs and extracurricular activities for each child to express and develop other academic interests, starting from kindergarten through high school.
“Our son, who is in third grade, participated recently in the ‘Ohio Invention Convention,’ won an award, and was promoted to the state level, winning an ‘honorable mention’ for his invention,” said Brittany. “This was a huge deal for him and the school and his teachers were extremely supportive!”
When asked about their experience of being schooled at home through OCA, the Clark children had many positive comments.“I love being able to make new friends and meet people at my school, and I love to be able to do school at home!” said six-year-old Castle, who is in kindergarten.
Ten-year-old Island, who is in third grade, echoes his sister’s enthusiasm for learning at home. “You can do things like spend time with your family, talk about important stuff, and have a few snacks during lessons and be home. I love being able to go on vacations and take my school work with me while we travel.”
Nevaeh, the oldest of the Clark children, now a sophomore enrolled in Ohio’s College Credit Plus program, says she would definitely recommend the public online school option through OCA.
“I think homeschooling allows students to develop their own personalities and unique traits without being molded or pressured by other kids. I also think it allows kids to learn at different capacities, and speeds and allows each kid to venture toward their own interests and skill sets,” said Nevaeh, adding, “ I love it here and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Shannon and Brittany are proud of all three of their talented children, and are thankful for the teachers and staff at OCA who have been with them every step of the way in their academic journey.
“The most rewarding thing for me as a parent is to see them progress and reach milestones. Watching your child go from learning letters and words, to reading to you is quite rewarding. Also, I love to see how they have become so mature and responsible with making their school work a priority every day,” said Brittany. “We do a lot of classes from the computer, and we have live lessons where the kids log into an online room with their teachers and other classmates to discuss lessons. This is so great because the teachers are always so available and approachable via email, phone or live lesson rooms.”
When asked what advice she would give to others who may be considering their school options for the 2021-2022 school year, Brittany thoughtfully responded, “I always encourage people to do what is best for their family, regardless what that option may be. If you are able to dedicate time to a home-school endeavor, the rewards will never stop. Most importantly, put your kids where you think they will thrive.”
To learn more about the Clarks and their music, visit them on the web at www.shannonclarksugar.com/home. To learn more about the Ohio Connections Academy, visit www.OhioConnectionsAcademy.com or call 800-382-6010.