Andrew Campanella: Before a family signs up for online school, what do you encourage them to do to make sure that it is a good fit for their student?
Bryan Klochack, superintendent: Try to become as knowledgeable as possible about the environment. I think we do a very good job during the enrollment process. We have lots of information sessions where families can ask questions regarding the program. They can also talk to the teachers, to other parents, and to students. There’s really no one ideal student or family [for online school] because everybody is coming to us for their own specific reason. In our environment, we’re able to individualize, and that’s a big draw for lots of people. Some families decide to come to us for a year or two, just to work through some things. We have some kids who have been with us for a number of years who are terminally ill. They get to continue to be normal in the sense that they’re continuing to go to school, because they can in our environment. There’s really no one reason why students come. Everybody thinks, “Oh, it’s because they’re getting bullied.” Well, that’s one aspect. Another one is that perhaps they feel like there’s nothing wrong with where they are, things are going well, but they want to try this new option to see how it meshes with their style of learning. Again, there’s no one right fit. You have to be open minded, you have to be willing to work, you have to be a little bit of a go-getter, a self-motivator at times. But there’s no doubt this model works for many different people.
Andrew: Tell me more about the schedule of your program and how much flexibility is built into it.
Bryan: We work within a self-contained environment: the courses and the lessons are available to the kids 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Certainly, we don’t expect a kindergarten or young elementary student to be on the computer for seven hours a day. That’s not a good practice. There’s an importance in the role of what we call the “learning coach,” which is an adult at home with the student, helping them make sure they stay on task. We don’t ask them to be the instructors, but at home they do play a role, and a lot of times parents come to us because they want to have a more active role in their child’s education. So, there is a lot of flexibility built into the system. There’s an expected rate that should be kept for course completion, but there are ways in which the student and the parent can work with the teacher to make sure that by the end of the year or by this semester, all course work will be completed.
Andrew: How would you describe the rigor of online courses?
Bryan: There’s no question that our coursework is very challenging. When we provide surveys to our parents about their happiness with our curriculum and whether it’s more or less challenging than their previous experience, it’s well into the high percentage of numbers that [say] it’s more challenging. One of the things that we continue to fight over the years is that when you take a course online, people think of it as a credit recovery course that is not very challenging. As a full-time virtual option, that’s not who we are. We’re not a credit recovery program. We award diplomas. We’re expected to meet the same expectations every traditional brick and mortar district has for students to earn credits and their diploma, so it is very challenging, it is rigorous. Over time, students become more organized and more adept at working within this online framework, so you see a lot of post-secondary programming incorporated into their lives as well.
Andrew: Why do you think it is important for families to have choices in their children’s education?
Bryan: Everybody wants the best for their family and for their child, and no one knows their child better than their parents. I think that the more options you have, the more educated you can become about what might be a good possibility and what might not be as strong of a possibility. You’re going to make a selection that you believe as a parent is the best fit for your child to find success, and at the end of the day, that’s what choice is all about.
Andrew: How does Michigan Connections Academy participate in National School Choice Week?
Bryan: Participating in events to help people understand the importance of choice and the advantages that come with choice is important. Every day is a battle, not only in the state of Michigan but throughout the country, to try to keep this option and multiple options open for parents, and I think that the more choices parents have to put their kids in a place for success, the better our world and our country will be moving forward. We’ve been able to affect the lives of so many kids, whether it be for a year or whether it be for five years, and help kids graduate who never would have had this option not been there for them.
Andrew Campanella is President of National School Choice Week.
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