I don’t believe that one type of school is better for all kids than another type of school. What I do believe is that, for one child, a particular school could definitely be a better fit than another school! And for some kids, virtual schools are that perfect fit.
I was reminded of this by a conversation I had with Bryan Klochack, superintendent of Michigan Connections Academy. The virtual school offers families a non-traditional but relationship-rich learning environment.
Klochack shared with me the positive mantra he and his staff bring to encounters with students.
I’m a big believer that there’s two things in life you can control. You can always control your attitude, and you can always control your effort.
“The staff we have believe that as well,” he continued, “and we allow kids to talk through their successes and their struggles. You’d be amazed at the conversations a third-grade student can have about their education with their teacher.”
One of the best things about Michigan Connections Academy is this optimistic culture, where teachers go the extra mile and students learn– even across cyberspace– that individual effort can contribute to a better future.
And students are picking it up, Klochack said.
“We’ve changed kids’ lives, and that’s what gets me up in the mornings,” he said. “That’s what gets our staff up in the mornings— knowing that we are changing kids’ lives for the better.”
At heart, it is the relationship between teachers, students, and parents that makes Michigan Connections a place where students grow, both academically and socially.
“I give lots of credit to our staff, and I give lots of credit to our families and students because they work really well together,” Klochack said. “They really believe in each other because of the relationship that’s built.”
Of course, Michigan Connections Academy has other attractive aspects as well. As a public school, it is free for all students. And, like any virtual school, it offers families flexibility.
The school uses “visible learning,” where students are in control of their learning, their discussion with teachers, and how frequently they communicate.
“That’s one of the great things that our kids can do when they leave here,” Klochack said. “They can speak and carry on conversations with adults because they’ve had to do it during their time with us.”
Field trips are another feature of the school. Michigan is large, but field trips to the state’s botanical gardens, museums, and colleges help unite the students. Interactive online platforms also give students the chance to connect with other virtual school students around the country.
We have kids who live in a very urban area, who would never interact with somebody from a less urban area, but because of our program, they’re expanding their ability to work with and understand kids from different areas of the state.
“They can interact with kids from California, Florida, Ohio, South Carolina, and Idaho in their different clubs and activities,” he added. “It really gives them a world-sense and interaction with kids they would never know otherwise.”
These days, friendships can start in unexpected ways. Nearly 40% of American couples now first meet online. Online communication has created amazing opportunities to connect that we didn’t have twenty years ago, and schools are learning how to leverage that for students. Michigan Connections Academy is a prime example of that, and an inspiring one too!
As Klochack says, “The thing is, we’re not claiming our model [of education] is better than anybody else’s. All we say is it’s an option for some families to help their child find their ultimate success. That’s what we’re all about. Having that option for families to put their kids into a place where they’re going to find great success.”
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