My child likes the independence of learning online from home, while at the same time enjoying the ease of interaction (both email and video conferencing) with teachers that Blyth Academy Online provides. My child enjoys the fact that work can be completed any time of day, on weekends and holidays if desired, allowing for great flexibility. Our child appreciates being able to speak to teachers directly, without judgement or any fear of connecting - they have all been open to receiving questions and reply respectfully and swiftly. Video conferencing during office hours is offered and encouraged. Our child's experience was so positive in Grade 10 (full course load) that we have engaged BAO again for the full Grade 11 year. During the COVID crisis and the uncertainty in the public system, we are confident in this choice knowing that the curriculum and delivery will be the same, our child is working safely at home and not sacrificing any academics in the process. When schools had to rush to online learning last March due to COVID, many peers noted the curriculum had to be reduced to accommodate this but with BAO this did not happen, so we did not feel any curriculum was sacrificed.
We have received thoughtful and very prompt replies to all queries sent to BAO. The staff has been kind and supportive, as well as providing very detailed responses to any questions we've had. This includes not only administrative staff but also guidance staff as well. When we were researching online school options we were able to communicate directly with the head of the online school, who provided very helpful feedback. BAO has a main section on the Brightspace system they use that communicates announcements such as any reminders for graduating students, important notes about scheduling exams, and other information. This is helpful not just for the student but also parents as you can check this site anytime and see your child's progress and get updates and information from the school.
The teachers my child has had at BAO have been great. They have always kept in contact with my child and many have provided feedback above what we'd expected at an online school. Virtual evaluations occur at the midterm point in every course, ensuring accountability of the student but also giving our child the chance to communicate any questions or overall issues with the material. We've been happy with their engagement in our child's learning. Teachers also provide constructive feedback in advance of larger assignments; that is, if our child needs clarification or direction before going too far into a larger project, the feedback has been very swift and helpful. Marking is done in a very timely manner and with attention to detail. Assignments are weighted fairly and it is made clear at the beginning of the course how much things are worth so the student can learn well how to manage their time and efforts throughout the course - this is not something we found in public school. The weightings in a regular day school may be the same or similar but are rarely communicated to the student and parents beyond the 70/15/15 or 70/30 breakdown. The BAO courses are literally broken down to account for every percentage point in the course and students can see progress constantly. We find this very useful.
The curriculum is on par with what our child would get at public school; sometimes the course material is advanced for the grade level and this keeps it challenging. We definitely feel BAO has checked all the curriculum boxes and our child is prepared for future growth. In terms of academic culture/atmosphere this is harder in an online school, however in most courses there are "class discussion groups" where the student must submit responses to questions or complete and upload assignments to a group page, where they receive comments and must also make comments on the work of other students. This is a good way for students to see what others in their course are doing, so they know if they are on the right track or need to work harder. The only weakness our child has noticed is that sometimes there is overlap in larger assignments (i.e., preparing a project on a topic in one course that was covered in a different course; obviously the spin of the project would differ slightly between courses but it can make the completion of the project feel tedious and in these cases there hasn't been a choice offered).
There aren't really extracurricular activities for BAO or if there are they are not of interest to our child. I believe there are opportunities to connect with students in your region who also attend the academy but we haven't sought them out as our child has other social connections outside of school. For us this was not a deciding factor. We mark it a "5" for this reason.
Students seem to interact primarily during the discussion posts, by commenting on each other's work as required by the assignment. From what I have observed, everyone is supportive and respectful. The size of the student body varies by course and students start and end the courses on their own timetable, so they do not seem to communicate the same way you would find in a regular school. I would expect this normally suits the style of learning that BAO students prefer anyway. If students wanted to communicate with one another via the private BAO portal they all belong to, they would be able to do this as the class list is visible to them. Students do create video assignments at times, and some are expected to be posted on discussion forums - this does promote a feeling of community even if the students do not communicate beyond that assignment. Also, I expect if a student did not wish to have their video posted in the forum, they would be given options. The school is very supportive of the students in our experience.
This is an online academy so going to school means logging onto a home computer. This suits the learning style of our child, and allows for adequate time to process concepts, do research, complete assignments and interact with teachers in a positive way. Quality of life for our child has greatly improved with this model, compared to a regular public high school. If a student is looking for more than academics, BAO would not be the best choice only because it is online and students begin and end the course at their own pace so there is no group work outside of posting on and commenting on discussion boards. However, this is something our child likes about this school. Not all students thrive or need group work, many do not desire it at all. I am sure that if our child wished to connect with a student in a course at BAO they would be able to do so in a safe way, but it is not required or necessary in order to do well at BAO.
Parents are most definitely welcome to engage with the school if they have questions or concerns. I have had nothing but positive and encouraging communications from the guidance and administrative staff. In particular, the guidance department has helped guide course choices and ensuring our child is meeting all the requirements of the OSSD. Technical issues if any are sorted out very quickly by simply sending an email. If you reach out to the wrong person, your concerns are forwarded to the correct department and followed up on directly. Teaching staff communicates directly with the student, though I assume if there were any concerns, a parent would be able to also communicate with the teacher. I have found though that any questions, comments or concerns are very well addressed by connecting with our child's guidance counsellor and/or the administrative and tech-support staff at BAO. One of the best things at BAO is our child works through curriculum smoothly, there is no "busy work" and it is all relevant to the course. Being able (and required) to connect on a virtual meeting at the mid point of the course is great! In fact, the student cannot access past the mid-term point without doing this step - this prompts a connection to the school and teacher.
The school is online, so there are no school grounds or neighbourhood. For us this is totally fine, so we give it a "10" rating. If students are looking for a "community or neighbourhood" and can afford to do so, the brick and mortar location of Blyth provides this and is another great option. For students who prefer to learn in their home or chosen locations, the online academy is a great choice and would allow for students with busy schedules such as competitive sports, the option to plan school around the activity rather than the other way around.
The admission for online courses is seamless. You go online, find the course, select it and pay. Following this, if you are new to a course or to BAO, you must provide photo ID (i.e., passport, DL) of the student as well as course prerequisites (prior report cards). Easy. This works well for students taking just one or two BAO courses, or in our case, a full semester/year of courses. We are into our second year with BAO so the need for ID photo and prerequisites is gone because they have our child in their system and hold the Ontario Student Record, they have what they need. We registered and paid for semester one courses (4 in total) and within less than 48hr our child has started the first unit in each one - and it's not even Labour Day yet!