By Mark Ramos
Like many fourth-grade students, Shad Spencer of the Northeast has a best friend who attends his school. Shad’s best friend is named Cooper. However, what makes Shad and Cooper’s relationship unique is the boys attend Agora Cyber Charter School and live on opposite sides of Pennsylvania.
“We met in 2021 and ever since then, we’ve just been friends,” Cooper said.
Back in the third grade, the two met in a class for the first time and when the teacher kept putting them in groups as partners, the pair started talking and found they had much in common. What could the two possibly talk about, you ask?
“Life,” Shad told the Northeast Times bluntly. “We also help each other with projects if we need to.”
When Shad’s mother Brittney saw commercials for Agora four years ago, she thought it was a good fit for her son. After a tough half a year experience in public school, she thought it was too easy for Shad and wanted him to learn more and to be challenged. In the process, he found an important first in a child’s life, too.
“I really like the online school,” Brittney said. “We were having a horrible time because we were teaching him at home. A lot of stuff he was learning he already knew. We started him when he was in kindergarten. Cooper is Shad’s first friend. It may be hard to make new friends in online school, but it takes more work to keep that friend.”
For Cooper’s mother, Tracy, the decision to go with Agora Cyber Charter was because of the challenges the world faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They [the school Cooper attended] just weren’t ready for the entire online process,” Tracy said. “I wanted a very structured, regimented system that was already established instead of waiting for the districts to try and piece it together.”
“The boys had to work so hard to get to know each other,” Tracy said. “It’s not like when you are sitting down and building Legos together and you just talk about things. For them, all their time is talking so you don’t have that visual. Good for them because they’ve put in so much effort to stay close.”
Since Cooper lives just outside of Pittsburgh, the pals see each other every day virtually and on the phone after school. The boys play Fortnite online and even sync up movies together and watch through FaceTime. In fact, to celebrate this New Year and Shad’s birthday, the Spencer family made the trip out to Pittsburgh for the first time to ring in 2023 with Cooper’s family in person. It was the second time the boys got to hang out in person and the boys had plenty of activities planned for the meeting.
“We got to play soccer together and as usual, we played games, too,” Shad said. “We got to watch the ball drop on New Year’s and play Nerf guns, too. Cooper got me a Nerf gun for my birthday.”
Neither Brittney nor Tracy knew what to expect when they first met up to take the boys to Dorney Park for their first play date. However, according to Agora CEO Dr. Rich Jensen, the relationships developed online like Shad and Cooper’s through the virtual learning happens more often than one would think.
“One of the advantages of online learning is that we are truly a school without a ZIP code,” Jensen said. “We have students from Philadelphia to Scranton to Pittsburgh to Erie and everywhere in between. It just adds to the learning experience.” ••