Why ATI Virtual School Was Just What These Twins Needed to Succeed
When the pandemic closed their local middle school in 2020, 13-year-old twins Iris and Sarah Beerman joined the Academy of Thought and Industry’s virtual school program out of necessity. Now they’ve re-enrolled for their second year, but not out of necessity. Their experience at ATI has given them something their traditional school couldn’t: A real connection to their learning, to themselves and to the peers they’ve met along the way.
How is it possible that adolescents — who are fixated on social independence — would find greater connection in a virtual space? The answer lies in the systematic, Montessori-oriented approach taken by ATI. Every student has the potential to thrive when they are given time and space to lead, create, and collaborate. And when this happens, we see a powerful transformation — one that we might not have even thought was needed.
“Virtual school saved my kids,” said the twins’ mother, Jessie Beerman. “Even though Iris and Sarah are twins, they’re two very different people with their own unique personalities … We honestly weren’t sure what to expect.”
Beerman is an experienced educator herself, having taught in Montessori early childhood classrooms for the last 18 years, but there were still unknowns around an abrupt leap to virtual learning in 2020. Most notably, could virtual lessons preserve hands-on learning and continue to foster community for both of her daughters?
Right from the start, the ATI difference was clear. The admissions team wanted to talk to Iris and Sarah directly — not to their mother on their behalf. They connected with the girls and wanted to know their dreams, fears, strengths, and weaknesses. The twins now have access to individualized coaching where they meet weekly with guides to discuss their assignments, accomplishments, struggles.
And the learning was truly individualized.
For Beerman’s more introverted daughter, the use of virtual breakout rooms made the group learning much smaller, allowing her to feel more comfortable speaking up. One-on-one coaching with the guides helped her connect to teachers in a way that she hadn't experienced; she felt seen and understood for the first time in a long time.
“In a virtual space, your friendships are more chosen and deliberate,” says Beerman. “For my extrovert, this meant she could connect with certain students on personality instead of geography or academic placement. These friendships lifted her up and, as a result, her confidence soared.”
The program, Beerman discovered, is truly built around the students.
“When you think about middle school in general, it tends to assume so much control over children and be adult-led,” Beerman said. “The value of having a team of adults who is behind them, believes in their perspective and gains their trust is a priceless piece of their development.”
As she recounted the moment when she knew her twins’ learning had been reinvigorated, Beerman welled up with tears. “My daughter Sarah came up to me after the first day and said, ‘Mom, these guides trust us. None of my teachers have ever talked to me like I am capable before.’”
In many ways, the pandemic made Montessori for Beerman’s adolescent daughters unexpectedly accessible and effective.
“I had a bias against virtual or distance learning,” says Beerman. “I always felt that, especially Montessori, needed to be done in person. I’m thrilled to say that ATI Virtual School exceeded our expectations. My twins were so happy with the experience that they’ve decided to stay at ATI Virtual.”