Q&A with BEA Cyber Academy facilitator Margie Fisher
Q&A with BEA Cyber Academy facilitator Margie Fisher
Brit Milazzo
Monday, January 07, 2019

Bald Eagle Area School District offers cyber education for its students who may feel this form of alternative learning is a good fit for them. Different than cyber charter schools, BEA Cyber Academy – established in 2007 – means a student who goes through the virtual program is still a student of Bald Eagle Area School District and may participate in other BEA-offered classes, clubs, athletics, fine arts and extracurricular activities provided by the district. He or she may also attend Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology. Additionally, upon graduation, he or she will receive a Bald Eagle Area diploma.

For more information, contact the cyber school at 380-1393 or email cyber education facilitator Margie Fisher at margie.fisher@beasd.net. To visit the BEA Cyber Academy website, visit this link: http://www.beasd.org/o/bald-eagle-area-cyber-academy.

Question: What is BEA Cyber Academy?

Answer: BEA Cyber Academy is an alternative education plan for students (who) don’t fit into the traditional classroom setting for some situation – it can be for health needs or a situational-style learning where one-size-fits all doesn’t work, so we created an option for students (who) need an alternative way of learning.

Q: When was it started?

A: Eleven years ago, (former Superintendent) Mr. (Dan) Fisher saw that kids who were going to a PA cyber program and other alternative programs weren’t being successful, and coming back deficient in credits, failing and repeating, and he wanted to fix that and give them an option here where they could stay with us and we can meet their needs better.

Q: How has the program evolved since its inception?

A: The first year was a nightmare because nobody really knew what cyber (education) was, including myself. The students basically stayed home like the PA cyber program was doing, but that’s the reason it was not successful – there wasn’t enough support. We tweaked it to create a classroom where they could come for tutoring and more engaged learning experiences, so then they had the option of staying home only if they were passing. It was mandatory that they came in if they started to flounder or fail, and since then it’s just taken off.

Q: How many students are part of the program?

A: A high would be 28, 29, 30 (students) and a low would be 18 to 15, so it stays pretty steady.

Q: Who is the program for?

A: It’s for students (who) need a flexible schedule for some reason or another, or a different style of learning. You have to qualify – you can’t wake up one morning and say, ‘I don’t feel like going to school; I want cyber.’ There must be a reason to come and it has to be filtered and considered by the staff – (high school Principal) Mr. (Jack) Tobias, (Superintendent) Mr. (Jeff) Miles and a group of teachers. We look it over carefully and decide whether or not they’re a good fit because it’s not easy.

Q: Elaborate on the benefits of participating in cyber education through the district.

A: The benefits are obvious. You get to continue to be in band, be an athlete, be in drama and all the activities we offer at Bald Eagle. You can partake in graduation, but if you go to PA Cyber Charter School, you basically exit the Bald Eagle Area School District, and you are enrolled in their school and whatever they do. In the PA Cyber program, you can’t play basketball for them or football or drama or sing. … It isn’t just about leaning, but about experience and the whole experience of school and being well-rounded as a person, and I don’t feel you get that by going to a digital school that you just have to stay home and stare at the computer.

Q: What’s a day-in-the-life like of a student in BEA Cyber Academy?

A: A typical day of cyber school is they must log in by a certain time – definitely by 9 a.m., and I can see them logging in and they can start their courses and I can monitor how much time they’re spending per course. At the end of the day, I can see how much work they’ve gotten done. … I watch their grades by the end of the week and I can see maybe they were supposed to do 15 assignments and they only did five and say, ‘you better wake up early and get it done,’ so there is a monitoring system in place, so they don’t set themselves up for failure. For a student who comes in, it’s easy because they’re with me. They might have some tutoring needs and we have some teachers available for tutoring, and if they go to CPI, they can hop on the bus and go.

I sort of run cyber school like I coach. You can come, but if you come, you have to practice and participate. You can sit the bench on game time and get a D on your course. But if you want an A, I will help you achieve your goals of good grades. But if you come to cyber school, you will practice and you will work, and that’s just the way it is.

Q: Are there any common misconceptions about cyber education that you’d like to clarify?

A: Cyber school is not easy. I think there is a fallacy in people’s minds where they think that, ‘oh, I get to sleep in and I can do my work when I feel like it.’ It’s actually more work because the standards have to be there – that we are reflective of a quality education, therefore it’s rigorous, the expectations are there and it’s a lot of work and its hard. The fastest exit and entrance I had was one week and (the student) decided to say, “oh my gosh, this is not for me,’ and he went back to school.