CPS virtual school students learn at home via computer

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Matthew Varga, 16, is a student with the Chicago Virtual Charter School. (WLS)

The classroom is ready. Notebooks are labeled.

But Matthew Varga is barefoot as he begins school.

Varga, 16, is one of several hundred students who stayed home to learn "virtually" as more than 350,000 Chicago Public Schools headed back to class on Tuesday.

"I really don't miss anything," said Varga, who is enrolled in the only school of its kind in the state.

He is beginning his junior year as a student of Chicago Virtual Charter School.

Varga is one of 680 CPS students - elementary through high school - who learn via laptops. They log in for at least five hours a day. There are quizzes, homework, and live video chat sessions with teachers.

"I was at a public school to begin with, but I was being bullied a lot, like every single day. I never wanted to go to school ever," Varga said.

Parents Lisa and Frank Varga said they've seen a significant change in Matthew, even if it has meant they take on the role of "education coach."

"He has no problem getting up in the morning, he has no problem getting his work done," said Lisa Varga, his mother.

"We actually kind of like our kids, so it's not punishment to actually spend time with them," said his father, Frank Varga.

One day a week, virtual learners head to the West Loop neighborhood for face-to-face classroom time.

"When I first started, I said 'How am I going to do this?' But then I realized that the way the virtual classroom is, is the same way it is here, with the exception they don't necessarily see your face unless you have the web cam on," said Angela Castro, a Chicago Virtual Charter School teacher.

So how do virtual students do compared with those who attend traditional schools? Test results show Chicago Virtual Charter students perform on par with or a bit better than their traditional public school counterparts.

As for extra-curricular activities and friends, Varga said he gets all that "outside" of school. He's a chess champion and animation master.

"Everything I have that keeps me entertained is in my own home. So I don't really miss anything," the teenager said.

Several hundred people are on the waiting list for the Chicago Virtual Charter School.

State lawmakers currently have a moratorium on the opening of new virtual schools.
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educationcpscomputerstechnologyback to schoolChicago - West LoopChicago - Irving Park
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