Patrick Lattuca is superintendent of TEC Connections Academy (TECCA), an online tuition-free school in Massachusetts.
I have the privilege of being the superintendent of one of the most unique public schools in Massachusetts: the online school TEC Connections Academy, which serves 3,000 kindergarten through grade 12 students from across the state, including the Cape and the islands.
From socioeconomic status, gender identity, race, religion and the 25+ languages spoken at TECCA, we are one of the most diverse public schools in the Commonwealth. And we have been for nearly a decade.
I’m proud to say that our community not only respects and appreciates one another, but also the opportunities and advantages of virtual learning. Among the unlimited reasons for enrollment is that students have greater flexibility with their education.
This is especially helpful for our students who are pursuing professional sports careers, becoming young entrepreneurs, navigating parenthood or other caregiving duties, and who are medically fragile and/or undergoing medical treatments.
More than the alternative
According to a 2022 Pearson Teen Research Study, students who benefit from a virtual environment are those who crave self-guided pacing, flexibility and empowerment. At TECCA, students have considerable influence in setting up a structure and pace for their learning styles, including where and when they do their work.
We also know students are choosing the online environment to help address and support their mental health and wellbeing. Their needs can stem from circumstances as varied as mild-to-moderate social-emotional difficulties to not being challenged enough, which can present as disengagement.
I also know that students turn to my school when their brick-and-mortar school's physical social environment becomes unsafe or socially and emotionally difficult. In these cases, schools like TECCA should be explored, as the virtual environment allows students the ability to build relationships with peers and school faculty/staff in innovative ways, such as virtual social groups, clubs, online lunch bunch opportunities and more.
Catering to the needs of individual students
While many students opt for online school because they prefer and excel online, other students make the switch to overcome or address a specific challenge. I’ve watched students who’ve felt disconnected or bullied in their previous school find an authentic virtual school community that is both supportive and engaging.
One of our students was relentlessly bullied while attending her brick-and-mortar school. She shared that she felt unwanted and would often either avoid school altogether or hide in the stairwell during lunch. She told me that she wanted to quit and drop out of school, until she found TECCA.
When she graduated from our school, she shared that she thought her graduation day would never come. When walking across the stage to get the diploma she earned, she expressed to me that all she felt was pure accomplishment.
Another student told me that she used to feel uncomfortable at her previous school because other students would make fun of her for dressing in accordance with her religion. She explained that at TECCA, she was accepted by everyone and even mentioned the joy she felt when a faculty member knew the name of the type of headdress she was wearing.
This student was able to find her voice and was no longer afraid to express herself without repression or feeling ostracized. She has built many positive and meaningful relationships with her peers and enjoys the camaraderie at TECCA, something that escaped her in the past.
Public virtual school can also give students who are experiencing medical concerns a sense of normalcy. Whether traveling to a medical appointment or in the hospital, these students have reported how much they enjoy the virtual environment, as they can still attend their classes and connect with peers and TECCA faculty and staff.
To me, this is incredible. I love that we can provide access to our school, virtual clubs and activities, and other types of socialization opportunities for students regardless of their personal circumstance.
Wave of the future
By upholding our mission of providing our students a quality virtual public school experience to prepare students for their life’s journey, TECCA supports each student we serve academically, socially and emotionally. I believe virtual public schools are a wave of the future in creating virtual teaching and learning school environments that meet the unique needs of all students and families.
We are on a path toward continued growth, innovation and improvement to reframe what students will come to expect from their education. Our mantra at TECCA is there is no sky and there are no limits, as each students’ opportunities are limitless.