Families Who Figured Out How to Do Education Online: The Vanns


A public school setting can be stressful for kids who don’t fit the traditional educational mold or who learn differently from other students. It’s easy for students to become frustrated and disenchanted with school and fail to reach their full potential.

Unfortunately, public school budgets usually don’t allow even the best teachers to give the one-on-one time such students need. The need to serve the greater student population often leaves less conventional students without much of a support system.

Meet Thomas Vann, an 11th grade student in Virginia with Asperger syndrome, who sought a more suitable education for his learning style. When he was beginning middle school, Thomas and his family found the public school experience increasingly stressful and unproductive, in ways that inhibited Thomas’ overall education.

After exploring all their options, Thomas and his family found a flexible online private school that allows students to learn at the pace that works best for them: The Keystone School.

Setting up for success

“For Thomas to have the fairly consistent class setup has really made it easy for him to succeed each year,” Larisa Vann, Thomas’ mother says. “Being able to get feedback from the teachers in both online and print classes has also helped him figure out where he needs to spend a little more time and effort.”

The Keystone School had the flexibility and support structure Thomas needed to get the one-on-one attention from teachers, counselors and advisors for him to receive a great education. The schedule flexibility has allowed him to pursue interests and reach personal goals, like becoming an Eagle Scout and landing his first paid part-time job.

“I think I do have more perseverance than most of my peers,” Thomas says, “because I feel that I’ve always had to work harder because of my Asperger’s. Taking online classes removes the distraction of gossips and bullies, but the challenge to learn the material is still there.”

Flexibility Helps: Thomas’ Keystone Experience

Keystone allows students to move through their coursework at their own pace. Thomas, for example, sometimes has trouble concentrating, so this extra freedom is especially beneficial.

“Regular classrooms can be too small and too loud to concentrate, and regular hours don’t always work for me because of my work and karate schedules,” he says. “Plus, when I know what I have to get done (to stay on track) I can work hard on it and finish it early.”

In a traditional setting, if a student wants to set their own hours, or only work on one subject for a whole day, they’ll probably be met with a hard “no.” As a Keystone student, Thomas can adjust his learning schedule to his own pace.

“Some days I work only on one class, and kids at a regular high school don’t have that option. Also, if I finish what I was planning to complete, I have the option of continuing or being done for the day — more game time if I want it!”

What’s the future hold for Thomas? He wants justice. Thomas plans to attend college and earn a degree in forensic science.

“Right now the main thing that keeps me motivated is that I know I need to finish my classes with good grades so that I can get into the college that I want to attend,” Thomas explains. “I want to be a forensic scientist and I know that I need to have good grades to get into the school that I’ve chosen. I’d like to get a job where I can make a difference,” he says, “and hopefully help guilty people get arrested, and innocent people freed.”

Larisa Vann, Learning Coach

Larisa Vann acts as her son’s Learning Coach, overseeing his day-to-day school time and helping him to understand his work when needed. In relation to Thomas’ Asperger’s, Larisa told us, “I felt that, since I understood how [Asperger’s] manifested in him, that Keystone would provide the academic lessons and I would be able to provide the support and assistance.”

Finding a schedule that works for Thomas, she noted, is important — and she uses Keystone’s online tools to keep him on track.

“I use the Parent Observer account (a function of the Keystone platform) to see what assignments Thomas has completed, what kind of progress he is making in each class, and then comparing that to the schedule that he and I have worked out,” she says. “If he is behind, we add school days, meaning that he will spend a few hours on the weekend catching up.”

The right school for the right student

Online schools can potentially offer a number of advantages for families and students like Thomas. The most important benefit can be the flexible scheduling.

“The biggest thing,” Thomas notes, “is that I get to take more breaks during the day instead of having to go from class to class. The struggles that I had to deal with in public school have actually made it easier for me to do online school. Now the only issue is allowing myself to get distracted with games.”

The flexible class schedule gives Thomas the time to participate in outside activities. In addition to a part-time job and ongoing commitments to his Boy Scouts of America troop, Thomas also balances out his schedule with one of the martial arts: karate.

“Thomas started taking karate when he was four years old and continued once we moved to Virginia,” Larisa says. “He has continued with his classes and is currently a purple belt in the adult class. This gives him time with his peers every week.”

When asked about his social life compared to his public school peers, Thomas says attending online school hasn’t really made that big of a difference, outside of the daily interactions during class.

“Having a job has introduced me to new people and I talk with them on breaks, so that’s something new that is kind of cool,” Thomas explains. “I have friends that I see in karate class, friends that I work with, and friends from Scouts. I’ve also made some closer friends in Scouts and we sometimes get together to game or just do whatever.

Is online education right for your family?

Keystone offers a quality education to students who excel when they have more freedom, flexibility and responsibility. For Larisa Vann, finding a school that worked with her son, and not against him was hugely valuable.

“I think the greatest benefits [of Keystone] were more noticeable over the long term,” Larisa says, “Thomas had been in brick and mortar schools, but they consistently failed to provide the support he needed as a child on the autism spectrum. His safety and his ability to learn were my main concerns and the public schools were not doing their job. Thomas is actually the one who chose Keystone after looking at all the options available for homeschooling.”

To learn more about how The Keystone School could help your family, visit us online today.



Back to School!

The beginning of August always signifies the start of a new school year for many families. If you are new to Keystone, welcome aboard. If you are coming back to join us for another year, we are glad to see you again. It also means there is a lot happening at Keystone to prepare for the “start” of a new school year. This involves evaluation and reviews of the surveys and information we have collected from you, our Keystone families. As we prepare for this year, we are excited to be launching a new Keystone Elementary program. This program will support younger students (K-5) with a flexible Keystone model, but will require the daily guidance and support of an at home Learning Coach (parent). We have also reviewed some new elective course offerings and updated AP Courses, prepared to launch a Student Success Course and have developed new Keystone Writing and MLA guidelines, which we are preparing to align with all courses and share out to all students through all courses.
I look forward to helping to support you and your student throughout this year. Please join us for our many webinars throughout the year and encourage your students to join in our Open House week planned for later this fall!

– Erica Rhone, Keystone Head of School

Teacher Appreciation Month

Every May, The Keystone School takes time to recognize our teachers, as part of Teacher Appreciation week. During this time, I take time to reflect on why I became a teacher. I think back to my teachers and those that influenced my choice to enter the world of education. I believe that each student has or can find that one teacher who truly makes a difference. Whether it’s the subject area that helps your student connect, or just the way in which the teacher responds that appeals to your student. I hope that each of our Keystone students are able to find that one teacher here at Keystone who makes a difference in their educational journey. If your student is hesitant to reach out and make connections, please help them to take that step forward. Encourage them to pick a teacher, just one, and share a bit more about themselves. These personal connections can really help your student to feel a deeper connection with our school. The more we know about your students and their educational experiences and challenges, the more we can help to focus our support.
If you and your student have found that one teacher who has made a difference, be sure to take time and thank them for it!

Erica Rhone
Keystone Head of School


AP Courses at Keystone

This month’s theme at Keystone is focused on Advanced Placement.  We think it is important to highlight for Keystone families the opportunities available at Keystone that can help impact their future education pathways.  Students who engage and test for any Advanced Placement courses that are accepted by their colleges or universities give themselves the opportunity to get ahead as a Freshman. However, if an Advanced Placement course through Keystone is not something that would interest your student, you could always consider visiting a local community college and select a course which could be considered for a dual credit opportunity.  More information on dual credits can be found on www.keystonestrong.com or through the Student Handbook.   If you are interested in reading more about AP courses, take a look at the April 2016 newsletter, located here.



Looking Back to Move Forward


Looking Back to Move Forward

By Lisa McClure– Keystone Head of School

~Author Unknown

Moving forward in life is a full time job! For Keystone students, putting in the time needed to meet their course due dates, college application deadlines, and graduation dates can be daunting. As parents, we have goals for our children that require their full attention to meet. As teachers and school leaders there is always more to do to provide the best Keystone learning experience possible. Who has time to look back?

Who has time NOT to look back! Reviewing accomplishments builds our confidence to take on new challenges. Reflecting on mistakes keeps us humble and reminds us of things not to repeat. Looking at the big picture in retrospect helps us to refocus and realign our priorities with reality. Looking back is an essential part of making sure we are headed in the right direction.

Many of you have helped Keystone in the process of “looking back” by giving us feedback in webinars, by e-mail, in surveys, and over the phone. Sometimes that feedback is suggestions that come from a less than perfect Keystone experience. Other times it is a pat on the back for a Student Services or Admissions representative, or a teacher that has gone above and beyond. Without hearing from our students and parents we are only looking back through a very narrow lens, so your comments and suggestions are very helpful.

All of our academic departments will be taking a look back over some of the positive enhancements and changes that have grown out of our reflection and your feedback. While many of you are not following a traditional school year calendar, for Key-stone we are ending a fiscal year, and beginning a new one, as well as preparing for our busy enrollment season that begins in August.

It is the perfect time for reflection before we begin implementing even more new improvements in the coming year. This blog is one of the improvements to support better communication with families that we implemented this past year. Keystone Plus was re- vamped to provide even more targeted teacher feedback and interaction. The Keystone High School Handbook and policies were revised and updated. We instituted an Academic Review Committee to give a broader representation of academic voices in issues related to policy and academic integrity. We refocused attention on teacher support and feedback, along with many other smaller initiatives.

We are proud of our accomplishments at Keystone, even as we learn from things we could do better.

Thank you for your continued feedback and support!

Communication for Understanding

Communication for Understanding

Focusing on communication

By Lisa McClure– Keystone Head of School

It is generally accepted that good communication is important in all aspects of our lives. Clear communication becomes even more critical in a distance learning program, where we do not have the benefit of reading body language and facial expressions when communicating.

Clear communication is always a two-way street. At Keystone we work hard to make sure our communication is clear and straightforward. When there are questions or when we are not as clear as we thought, we rely on our customers to communicate back to us with questions and concerns.

I have personally adopted three rules for communication for myself. Check them out and see if they ring true for you as well.

1. Try not to react to a written communication. Emotion can get in the way of understanding. If a certain word or phrase triggers an emotional response, it needs to be processed before responding to the message. Waiting until later in the day to craft a response works best for me.

2. Check all written communication for bias and assumptions before sending it out. We all come from different educational and family backgrounds. My first re-action as a reader is to assume that the writer comes from my same experiences. Recognizing the likelihood that the reader does not share my experiences increases my level of clarity. This can help to reduce the likelihood of misunderstanding.

3. Pick up the phone and clarify issues rather than extending a string of e-mails that are not solving the problem. Too often it is easier to hit reply and make sure I am “heard” rather than making sure my response is moving an issue toward resolution.

I can pledge to you that Keystone teachers and staff have a passion for student success and will always try to communicate clearly with the goal of promoting understanding. When we miss the mark, it may be that we should have taken more time to craft a communication or given more consideration to a bias or assumption that may not be shared. We will continue to work on improving.

Let us partner with you as communicators working toward the success of your student. Keystone welcomes your communication!