Lydia Stack is far away from home in New York pursuing her dream of professional dance. Ben Spencer’s time for school is limited with his work on a family farm and a second job. Despite their different lifestyles, MySchool@Kent, a non-traditional high school offering a blended learning of both online and face-to-face study, with coaching and support, is working really well for them and a growing number of other students.
The hybrid school, developed by Kent ISD and local superintendents, started in 2012 with about 100 students and has grown to about 250 this year. Scott Vashaw, director of the school, believes MySchool@Kent’s method of combining online classes and face-to-face teaching is the wave of the future.
“I think blended programs will become part of the fabric of every school,” he said. “We so believe in face-to-face participation,” Vashaw said. “Young people learn best when you have relationships.”
Classes are taught online with Michigan-certified teachers, and supplemented at the Kent Career Tech Center main campus and satellite locations around the county. Students participate in face-to-face time on Kent ISD’s campus or a community location two days a week for a total of five hours. Multiple locations makes participating and getting the benefit of those relationships more convenient, he explained.
Grand Valley State University recently began offering a classroom for MySchool@Kent students to study at one day a week at its downtown campus. This will put students in a college environment and may change the way they view college, Vashaw said.
“Perhaps it will make them think ‘these kids look a lot like me, and maybe I can do it,’ ” he said.
Having teachers and success coaches available to help students is the biggest difference between MySchool@Kent and other virtual schools, Vashaw said. “Kent wanted to offer a different type of online school than fully virtual, so we said ‘let’s offer a blended program and let’s just be better.’ Our goal is to provide a value-plus experience.”
The blended school allows students to study two classes every six weeks in a type of “intensive approach,” instead of several different classes at once. Or, students can take a more traditional schedule, and even take a heavier class load with permission.
“It gives students an option outside of the norm,” said math teacher Ashley Crossman. “Being able to work at their own pace I think is the really, really good thing about the program.”
Benefits of MySchool@Kent:
Many Students Benefit
Traditional high schools are not for every student for a variety of reasons, he explained. Alternative education students are one example, and a big part of those attending MySchool@Kent. The program helps schools that have had to drop alternative education programs because of tight budgets, he adds. “Every one of our member high schools has students who have needs that are difficult for them to meet,” Vashaw said. “We meet those needs.”
Students with medical conditions unable to attend school regularly, those who need to make up credits and students who want to finish early are other students who can benefit from the options MySchool offers.
Another circumstance where this program works is when students want to “follow their dreams,” he explained. They may be involved in special studies or following some other passion, but want to keep earning credits at their home school.
Lydia Slack is one of those students. The Forest Hills senior is studying at the French Academy of Ballet for Dance in New York City as she pursues her goal to be a professional dancer.
This fall, she’s taking seven subjects so she can graduate early and start auditioning for parts in January. “They have the classes I need to graduate,” Lydia said of MySchool@Kent, which offers every course required by the state.
Lydia’s dancing keeps her busy seven days a week, so when she’s not dancing, she’s studying, contacting teachers by email when she has questions about her classes. The program has worked well for her. “They really understand having a professional in high school,” she said.
She will graduate with her high school class and earn a regular diploma from her school district, another advantage MySchool@Kent offers that other online programs cannot.
Ben Spencer, 17, said MySchool@Kent is ideal for his busy life. “It’s more convenient than the traditional school for me,” said the junior who works at McDonalds, helps with his uncle’s farm, attends KCTC’s Sustainable Agriscience program and takes core classes with MySchool@Kent.
Ten face-to-face teachers who are Michigan-certified work with classes two days a week at a KCTC campus classroom. They also travel to satellite classes, including the new GVSU site. Each student is given a laptop and Wi-Fi card, if needed.