Sora’s Online High School Experience: An Inside Look from Brandy

What makes Sora’s online high school experience unique? It’s the people. It’s the passion and commitment to constant innovation from Sora’s staff, faculty, and students. We’re continuing our Inside Look series, where you’ll hear straight from Sora’s faculty members about what sets Sora apart. This week, we’re taking an inside look into Sora from Brandy’s perspective.

Who is Brandy?

Brandy has worked as Sora’s Lead Counselor since its founding. She holds nearly fifteen years in public health research and evaluation, as well as a Masters of Public Health from Emory University. She discovered her love for working with youth as she ran a successful life coaching business for two years before beginning her journey at Sora. 

At Sora, Brandy isn’t just an academic advisor. She serves as students’ personal bridge-builder to the resources they need to flourish. She explains how she gets to know each new student:

What sets Sora apart from other schools–when you enter into Sora, you’re going to be meeting with a counselor. We have these introductory meetings where I’m trying to establish that rapport. It’s a getting-to-know-you session. I give students an opportunity to tell me about their life. 

What’s your home life like? 

What are your interests? 

What do you want to do?

What if Students Don’t Know What Interests to Pursue?

Sora’s project-based learning model gives students the freedom to explore a wide variety of interests. Brandy explains how she helps students discover strengths they didn’t know they had:

Some students have no clue what they want to do in the future. We help them explore different things and help them find their way. 

We offer YouScience, which is a career and aptitude assessment so that they can see what their strengths are and what they’re good at. I had one student who came in and said, “I’m not really good at anything.” 

And I said, “Oh no no, that’s not true.” 

So I had him take YouScience, and I debriefed with him and his mom to go over his aptitudes. He had a masterful vocabulary. His mom said, “Yes! I tell him that all the time! He’s so good at speaking.”

What Does School Counseling Look Like at Sora?

Sometimes, students’ greatest barrier to receiving help is knowing how to ask for it. Instead of reacting to students’ crises, Brandy takes a more consistent, proactive approach:

I work very closely with the students. I always check in with how things are going with their Learning Expeditions, their learning goals. If they’re behind pace, we talk about why. 

In addition to academic counseling, Brandy uses her experience as a life coach to help students develop skills to thrive as future professionals:

Then the conversation goes from looking at their academics to talking about life skills. Stress management and time management are the big ones that come up. They’re so honest with me. When they’re having a week where they’re completely off and struggling, or they’re behind and turning in their asynchronous assignments, they’ll tell me,

“I’ve been procrastinating this week,” or, “My dog died this week,” or, “I’ve been feeling off, and I’m really down.” 

That’s when I get to use those life coaching skills to help them move forward, giving them resources on things for stress management. 

I’ll ask some students, “Do you have a self-care list?” And they’re like, “What’s that?” 

A lot of them are visual learners, so I’ll send videos saying, “Check out this two-minute video on how to create a self-care list. Next time we meet, I need you to share with me your self-care list.”

So I give them assignments and things to work on to help them achieve goals and make progress on those life skills.

How Do You Help Students Adjust to Online Learning?

For some students, managing their own time to work on projects can be a major adjustment. Brandy shares a story about how one student found his spark at Sora:

There was a student who struggled with playing video games. With students having so much free time between expeditions and meetings–he was using that time to play video games. So he was behind pace. We met with him and his parents, and we connected him with a few mentors. 

At Sora, there are student houses that compete with each other for points like in Harry Potter. Brandy motivated this student with some friendly competition:

He has a very entrepreneurial mindset. He’s also very competitive. So I used that to help him. 

I said, “If you can complete this asynchronous work and get all your projects finished, you know this will look good for your house. You’re going to get more house points.

This competitive spin on academics sparked a new drive in this student. He would regularly update Brandy on how well he was staying on pace with his Engineering Track. But this was just the beginning. He learned to find motivation from his own personal growth and development.

Now he’s saying, “If you know any other new students who are struggling like I did when I first came here, I’d be happy to talk to them.”

He started to compete with himself. He would say, “Last week I got this many skills.” He would meet with me, saying, “Can I talk to you about improvements I’ve made with my life skills? I want to share with you how I’ve been improving my time management.” 

I’m excited for him, so I’m celebrating his wins.

Now he’s saying, “If you know any other new students who are struggling like I did when I first came here, I’d be happy to talk to them.”

Interested in Learning More?

If you’re interested in learning more about our unique online high school experience, you can start a conversation with our admissions team here.

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