Blended online, in-class MySchool@Kent program expanded to middle school

Teacher Stacey Pyper works with one of her students

A pilot project running this year for middle schoolers, modeled after Kent ISD’s My School@Kent for high school students, is seeing early success.

Both programs can help students who don’t always do well in typical classroom structures or have special circumstances that make the alternative structure a better way for them to learn. For some high school students, MySchool helps them take extra classes or make room in a crowded schedule for an activity they want to pursue.

The program uses a blended classroom model, where students have classroom time with teachers twice a week and spend the remainder of their school time learning online at home.

Sitting at a desk six hours a day, five days a week isn’t an ideal learning environment for every student, especially those suffering from anxiety, said instructor Jeni Stamas. One mom told her the class marked the first time since kindergarten her child has wanted to go to school and hasn’t had a panic attack going there.

“The smile has returned to his face,” Stamas said.

Ten students were enrolled during a smaller test of the program the second semester of the 2016-17 school year. This year 19 eighth-graders and three seventh-graders are enrolled in the class housed at Kent Career Tech Center. A certified English teacher, certified math teacher, a coach and a teaching consultant work with the students two days a week for four hours total.

 

A laid-back moment between instructor Jeni Stamas and student Zachary Horton

More Individual Attention

Instructor Marcy Toporski,  who spent 31 years teaching in a regular classroom, has high praise for MyMiddleSchool@Kent, and sees a simple reason for why it works: “When you have 30 students in a room, you can’t meet the needs of all the students.”

Students who need more time in specific study areas can get it in this environment rather having to move ahead with the rest of a class. “Things can be fine-tuned every day,” Toporski said. ”We have the great fortune to do that with fewer students.”

Having fewer students in class means less stress for them.

“By far this is the best year in school that I’ve had in terms of my grades,” said student Melodi Jones. She attributes that to not having to work along with a class full of distracting students, and getting one-on-one help from teachers who have time to ask how her day is going.

“The teachers are really funny,” said student Zachary Horton. “You can have a lot of laughs with them. You get one-on-one help from them. Also you don’t get bullied.”

When students have questions outside of school hours, they can contact the teachers via text or email. Stamas recalls once getting a call from a student on a weekend night. “School happens at 8 a.m. in the morning and at 8 p.m. Friday night,” she says. “Answering that text is what that kid needs.”

More Yes than No

The big goals for MyMiddleSchool@Kent are to get students ready for a successful freshman year, and turn around any who are going down a wrong path with their education. “They’ve heard a lot of no’s,” Stamas said. “We’re trying to give them yeses.”

The teachers like it a lot. “Honestly, this is like the best job ever,” Toporski said. “It’s got challenges, but the kids are great.”

The staff has seen differences in middle schoolers and high schoolers, who have been been taking the classes for six years and work among a larger number of students.

“They needed more attention and support than high school students and more motivation to work at home,” said Principal Cary Stamas, who is the husband of instructor Jeni Stamas.

School administrators hope to continue the pilot next year and possibly add sixth-graders in the future.

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Linda Odette
Linda Odette is a freelance writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism. She’s worked primarily as an editor in feature departments at newspapers in West Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Press, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Holland Sentinel. She lives in East Grand Rapids near the Eastown edge, has a teenage son and a daughter in college. Read Linda's full bio

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