Way back in the fall, before the EEE virus or the COVID-19 pandemic, MySchool@Kent Principal Danielle Hendry already was predicting that the online school summer school enrollment was going to be large.
To assure it would receive the pre-Labor Day school start waiver for the 2019-2020 school year, Kent ISD announced it would be offering free summer school to all students in Kent County. MySchool@Kent, a personalized blend of online and in-person instruction open to students countrywide, is the summer school program for Kent ISD.
“I was pretty vocal about the fact that we would have large numbers,” Hendry said. And she was right. As of June 4, the program had 944 students registered, more than double the number of students from last year.
At the request of area schools, Hendry said the deadline to register for the MySchool@Kent summer school program has been extended to June 15. With the extension, Hendry estimates the program could have about three times the number of students of last year’s, which was just over 400. (Information on how to register is available here.)
“It is a good problem to have,” Hendry said. “If a student needs this extra learning opportunity then we are happy to provide it.”
Just the Basics
The summer school program started June 8 and runs through July 31. Because students work at their own pace, the program was able to accommodate the requested extension, Hendry said.
“We encourage students to start on June 8 but if a student is on vacation, they can start later,” Hendry said. “A student could start at the end of June or beginning of July, but it would only give them about a month to complete the class.”
The MySchool@Kent summer school program is only for high school students, offering classes that meet the Michigan Merit Curriculum requirements for graduation.
“We do not offer anything above and beyond, just the classes that are needed for graduation,” Hendry said. This includes core classes in history, science, math, and English. The program also offers two foreign languages, Spanish and English, and a selection of elective classes such as art appreciation, college and career prep, music appreciation, physical education, psychology, and skills for health.
In the past, about a quarter of MySchool@Kent students have signed up for the summer program, Hendry said, adding that students from other schools would sign up for the program as well. Most students who participate in the summer classes do so to get a class out of the way to free up their regular school schedule for something else, to get a better grade in a specific class, or because the student discovered they needed a class to graduate on time.
Beyond Online Learning
“We have learned that while online learning works well for a lot of students, the ideal situation is still for students to meet face-to-face with teachers to build those relationships,” Hendry said. “We have found that sweet spot where the students come in for about two hours a week together with teachers and then they can do the school work remotely from a coffee shop or their bedroom.”
Due to the governor’s executive order that closed schools until the end of the 2019-2020 school year, MySchool@Kent can not open its facility until the start of the 2020-2021 school year on July 1. Students then will have the opportunity to meet with teachers. All social distancing precautions will be taken.
All tests must be taken at the MySchool@Kent facility on the Kent ISD campus. For students or parents who do not feel comfortable coming into a building, exams may be taken in the school’s parking lot. Hendry said students will access the school’s Wi-Fi with a teacher unlocking the exam for them to take.
How much did COVID-19 impact the summer numbers? Hendry said that it is hard to determine but added, “It has made the program more important.
“Due to the situation, some may have gotten a taste of what online learning is and may have realized that they are able to learn that way and like (it),” Hendry said. Offering the summer program free to all students has probably had a greater impact on the overall numbers, she added.
Hendry does see the COVID-19 situation as increasing the MySchool@Kent’s numbers come this fall.
“I believe there are families who will be looking for non-traditional school options, whether that be because the student has health concerns or the student or parents do not feel comfortable with them going into building,” she said.
The fall program also will increase as it will be accepting middle school students next year, she added, noting many district middle schools may have only one or two students interested in the option.
Of course more growth means more staff. Hendry said she has connected with teachers from Kent Innovation High School who are interested in joining MySchool@Kent. Recently Kent ISD announced that Kent Innovation High would be phased out over the next three years.
And Something New
As part of the summer program, MySchool@Kent has partnered with Kent School Services Network to offer the mental health program TRAILS, which schools such as Godfrey-Lee, Cedar Springs, East Grand Rapids, and Godwin Heights offer. Students who opt in will be able to join small groups where they can share their feelings about what is taking place locally and nationally, and learn how to check with themselves and friends and to exercise self-care.
“It is an opportunity for them to get the tools they need to help cope with what is going on right now,” Hendry said. The TRAILS program is only a trial for the summer, she said, but if it receives positive response it could be implemented into Kent ISD programs’ regular school year.