PA Cyber alum extends school choice tradition to siblings
Oct 29, 2019
At about 4 years old, Justin Buckingham was diagnosed with a degenerative condition that caused deafness. The auditory processing disorder led to learning issues at his private school because he was unable to process what was being taught due to his hearing loss.
"I loved being at the private school. The problem was I couldn't learn in a physical classroom," said Buckingham, 20, of Findlay Township. "They tried to put me close to the teacher, but I just couldn't hear—and I had hearing aids on top of that. I still struggled."
After attending two information sessions, his parents, Ed and Lisa Buckingham, decided to transfer him to PA Cyber in fourth grade. The decision was life changing.
While he continued to struggle early on, using headphones helped and his grades progressively got better. His mother, strong in her Christian faith, continued praying for his healing. At age 12 or 13, Buckingham remembers going for a check-up and receiving unexpected news: his hearing was completely fine.
"They said, 'there's nothing here that says degenerative condition and there's no reason for you to worry about going deaf,'" he recalled. "I went from the dirt, in my opinion, to the throne and not with my effort. I give all the credit to God because I was soaring."
After defying insurmountable odds, Buckingham graduated from PA Cyber in January 2017, two years after his older brother, Brandon, with a 3.7 GPA. He has now extended the PA Cyber legacy to his newest family members. The Buckinghams recently adopted four siblings from China; Justin helps his parents homeschool three of the youngsters with PA Cyber. Siblings Isabella, Riley, and Jordan entered first and second grades this fall. His fourth sibling, Leah, attends a special school for her disabilities.
"Really, it's very fulfilling for me," said Buckingham, who calls himself a "manny" and refers to his siblings as his kids. "I don't work outside the home or hold a 'real' job in the workforce. I want to be here for these kids."
Buckingham hasn't gone into the workforce because he considers helping his siblings a full-time job. He is also enrolled part-time in a two-year degree program at a community college and is working toward a bachelor's degree. He plans to transfer to Liberty University, based in Lynchburg, Va., to pursue a divinity degree in biblical studies and education.
In 2014, the Buckinghams built a new home that he likens to a community center. There is a fenced-in backyard with a pool, trampoline, sandbox, observation deck, and playground equipment. Inside, there is a dedicated classroom, a sensory room in the basement, commercial grade appliances, and a prayer and music room, where Justin leads the family in his own devotional and service on Sunday evenings.
Buckingham said his calling in life is to be a "preacher-teacher," a pastor and Bible professor. As a young child, friends and family would call him Pastor Justin because he loved God and enjoyed church.
"I used to scream out my mom's car window to heaven, 'God are you out there?' I was making sure the Lord heard my voice," he said.
When he was a PA Cyber junior, a friend sent him an email about a virtual "See You at the Pole" event. This led Buckingham to write a proposal and help establish the Connect Bible Club. He remembers being shocked that a public school would approve an idea for a Christian club, now offered at all grade levels.
"One thing I love about PA Cyber that makes it so amazing is that, if you look at all of the clubs and what you offer to students, I see absolute diversity and love for all people in your school. There's a club for everyone and a place for everyone at PA Cyber."
Teachers at PA Cyber embraced the non-denominational student and his radical affinity for God. Buckingham particularly credits his ninth-grade history teacher, Stephanie Skinner-Hinton, and her American History Explorations class for igniting his interest in history. She was excited about history, he said, and often talked about taking historical trips. Her interest in Gettysburg and the Civil War led Justin's family to take a trip there. She also let students debate in class, acknowledging that she believes in the Constitution and the right for people to be who they are, he said.
"She basically said we accept all people in this class and you have a right in this country to choose to do what you do or don't want to do," he said.
Skinner-Hinton said she remembers Justin as a very curious student.
"All he needed was a little spark to set him off on his journey of discovery," Skinner-Hinton said. "I am honored to hear I have impacted his love of learning. Students like Justin make me so proud that I get to be a teacher every day. I'm sure Justin is a shining star in all of his endeavors!"
Buckingham believes PA Cyber gave him the ability to express his faith within a public institution without judgment. Before graduation, he emailed Skinner-Hinton letting her know how to find him at the ceremony. He'd wear his favorite Christian band, the Newsboys, mounted to his graduation cap with LED lights. Skinner-Hinton found him before the ceremony started, he said.
"She ran up to me and congratulated me. I gave her a big hug. We took a picture together. I just loved her. She's the one who put me on fire for education," he said. "I don't think I would be the independent thinker I am today without her influence. It sounds kind of corny, but she changed my life."
This profile is part of an ongoing series featuring PA Cyber alumni.
Justin with his siblings. From left: Isabella, Jordan and Riley
Casie Colalella / firstname.lastname@example.org
About PA Cyber
Serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade, the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School (PA Cyber) is one of the largest, most experienced, and most successful online public schools in the nation. PA Cyber's online learning environments, personalized instructional methods, and choices of curricula connect Pennsylvania students and their families with state-certified and highly-qualified teachers, and rich academic content that is aligned to state standards. Founded in 2000, PA Cyber is headquartered in Midland (Beaver County) and maintains a network of support offices throughout the state. As a public school, PA Cyber is open for enrollment by any school-age child residing in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and does not charge tuition to students or families.