- Sponsorship -

Business as usual

Online learning is old hat for MySchool@Kent students

It was the flexibility that MySchool@Kent offered Forest Hills Eastern senior Olivia Laux that she said was key to her switching to taking online courses through the Kent ISD program.

“Being a Type 1 diabectic, I was missing a lot of school because the pump wasn’t working correctly or I didn’t feel well,” Olivia said. “Online classes allowed me to do things at my own pace and speed. Like for math, it takes me forever to get through math as I have to sit and concentrate on it. For my other classes, I can usually finish them in a couple of months, but math will take me four.”

Olivia’s mother, Meghan Laux, could not believe the difference in her daughter from struggling at school to being a successful student.

“To be honest, two years ago, we weren’t sure she was going to graduate,” Laux said. “MySchool@Kent empowered her to have the initiative to do it on her own time. The coaching aspect was amazing. It totally changed her approach to school.”

And things were going well, with Olivia expecting to graduate until the COVID-19 pandemic made it to Michigan. Olivia decided to self-quarantine before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s initial stay-at-home executive order on March 23.

“I kind of did that whole, ‘I’m quarantined, I don’t have to do anything’ for about a week,” she said. Then Olivia rolled up her sleeves, and is on track to graduate in May.

Related story: School 2.0: tips from the pros

Like a Four-wheel Drive

“We are built for something like this,” said MySchool@Kent teacher Doug Hicks, who added that the program is designed for no sick days or snow days, which gives the ability to transition into a situation such as the current extended shutdown.

“If you want an analogy, basically MySchool@Kent is like a four-wheel drive vehicle — no, more like a hybrid four-wheel drive vehicle. With the coronavirus, we just put it in four-wheel drive and kept going,” Hicks said.

MySchool@Kent teacher Doug Hicks went from 40 to 60% online teaching to 100% when the school shutdown order went into effect (courtesy photo)

Started in 2012, MySchool@Kent was a response to for-profit online schools that were being offered, Principal Danielle Hendry said. The program for students in grades 6 to 12  is designed to be flexible, and can be personalized to each student while also meeting state required guidelines. All students are given a device and internet access if needed. Students usually visit the MySchool@Kent building on the Kent ISD campus at least twice a week for testing and to set goals with a coach. They can also meet face-to-face with teachers.

“We traditionally serve students who already have extenuating circumstances, including students who are traveling abroad and those with medical needs,” Hendry said. “Our experience with those students meant that we already had a protocol for what to do when a student is unable to come to the classroom.”

Of course the stay-at-home order was different, in that instead of one or a few students unable to come to class, it was the entire 400-plus student body, plus teachers and staff, who could not come to school. The staff met and, after trying a few different platforms, settled on the Zoom application for instruction, meetings and other interactions.

“Students are able to get one-on-one help from our certified teachers and talk with their academic coaches to ensure they stay on pace,” Hendry said. “Aside from academics, we wanted to make sure our students were safe both physically and emotionally, and that students that learn differently still got the support they need to be successful.”

MySchool@Kent mental health liaison Colton Cnossen reached out to every student on his caseload during the first couple days of closure, and teachers and coaches identified others who might be struggling. MySchool@Kent also partnered with Kent School Services Network and school districts to help make sure students were safe and had access to food.

As of April 3, MySchool@Kent had five seniors complete all their required courses to graduate. About 100 are expected to graduate this school year.

MySchool@Kent senior Olivia Laux, who attends Forest Hills Eastern, switched to the online program two years ago (courtesy photo)

Re-learning for All

Hicks, who teaches social studies and has been with MySchool@Kent for eight years, said there have been some adjustments to being entirely online.

“For me, it has been like going back to my first year,” he said. “I am re-learning the need to take mental breaks. I feel like I can’t walk away, but I need to walk away. It’s hard, because you work to get your email caught up and then you leave for a while and come back to more than 150.

“In fact, while I have been talking to you,” he told a reporter, “I have heard my email chime at least four to five times.”

Hicks said he also has spent more time working directly with students and parents, discussing their concerns about how tests will be handled and whether a given student would move to the next level or graduate this year. To meet state guidelines, MySchool@Kent does proctor its tests, which are taken at the MySchool@Kent facility on the Kent ISD campus. With the executive order ending face-to-face education, MySchool@Kent students will test at home.

“I miss the social connection,” Hicks said. “It was that one-on-one time you had with the student. You just knew at a certain time so-and-so would be coming in to talk about school or this student would be just stopping by to say hi.”

But for everything else — from tools to pacing to the curriculum — “it’s business as usual,” Hicks said.

- Sponsorship -
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma was born in the Detroit area but grew up in Brighton where she attended Hartland Public Schools. The salutatorian for the Class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism and minored in photography and German. She expanded her color palette to include orange and black as both her daughters graduated from Byron Center Public Schools; maroon and white for Aquinas College where her daughter studies nursing and also brought back blue and maize for Grand Rapids Community College where her youngest daughter currently is studying music. Read Joanne's full bio or email Joanne.


Students reopen fine-dining restaurant six months after closing its doors

GRCC’s The Heritage has reopened to the general public, with culinary students cooking, baking their way toward degrees...

Plotting for a plot

Students’ hand-drawn maps are meant for the safekeeping of memories and to spur ideas for when they write personal narratives...

Outdoor lover, zen seeker, middle-schooler hope-giver

Bill Cataldo is the new K-8 principal for Cedar Springs’ new Red Hawks Online virtual school this year. School News Network took some time to get to know him better in this edition of Meet Your Principal...

The year of learning differently

SNN asked a sampling of students from across the county how it’s going for them so far in a school year of multiple instruction models...


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

‘I want it to look happy’

With help from generous donors, elementary teachers worked to make welcoming, kid-friendly space while following the rules of social distancing and sanitation...

Amid uncertainty, new protocols, there’s laughter, new connections

Junior Olivia Austin reflects on the first day of a very unique school year...

‘We are here to help’

The tri-colored posters along the walls of the Kent Career Tech Center offer a simple reminder to students who walk the facility’s halls: 'We are here to help'...
- Sponsorship -


Engagement: The Most Important Measure of Student Success

Polls find that students’ engagement in their school work declines as they ascend the grades. Tests that don’t relate to their real-life experiences exacerbate the problem...


Food ‘angels’ support hungry kids through pandemic

They work all across Kent County, guardian angels with peanut butter on their hands and crumbs on their shirtsleeves...
- Sponsorship -


Maranda Where You LiveWGVU