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New online academy looks to provide paced learning, support

Pathways High School Principal Jared Herron is accustomed to alternative approaches to the traditional learning environment. 

Experienced with focusing on student progress outside the classroom setting, Herron is prepared to serve as principal of the Kenowa Hills Online Learning Academy this school year.

Approximately 25 percent of Kenowa Hills students — about 750 — opted for virtual learning this year, with 75 percent choosing to attend in person.

The first week of school, which kicked off on Aug. 31, was focused on accessing technology and developing a virtual community. 

“Our hope is to have students adjust quickly and easily if they move into the classroom at the end of the semester,” Herron said. 

KHOLA goals include providing students grade-level content, one-on-one and small group support, and concern for physical and emotional health. 

District staff developed K-5 curriculum through Canvas, and will serve as mentors and support for 6-12 students learning online through Edgenuity. 

Secondary students also have the option to take in-person electives like STEM, band and orchestra.

According to the district’s back-to-school plan, mentoring and weekly two-way communication, and one-on-one support as needed, will be provided to virtual students.

K-5 teachers work on curriculum for online academy students

A New Era

While some Alpine Elementary and Pathways teachers instruct their classes online, some KHOLA teachers are managing classes both online and in person. 

“Seat time is not the most important thing for students,” said Sabrina Ricardo, Pathways 9-12 teacher. “Online learning provides the space to be creative with how we reach students, and allows them the flexibility to take charge of their own learning.”   

Before the development of the online academy, Wendy Maxwell’s one-on-one interactions with students at Alpine Elementary were limited to those in her first-grade classroom. In her virtual classroom, she will work with all first-grade online students and their families, and said she looks forward to those connections. 

Herron said the goal is for KHOLA to serve as an extension of classroom learning and rigorous coursework at home. 

“Our feedback about this program from our families with young learners has been positive,” Herron said. “Students can work at their own pace and parents can be present to facilitate learning, while accommodating their work and home life schedules.” 

Ricardo views all the changes and restructuring necessary to accommodate learning due to the pandemic as an opportunity for educators’ voices to be heard.

“This new era of learning opens the door for teachers to shine,” she said. “We work hard to teach our students and should be recognized as creative professionals.”

Online academy first-grade teacher Wendy Maxwell, left, collaborates with other K-5 teachers to prepare for the start of school
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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter, covering Caledonia and Kenowa Hills and is a roving reporter for Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News - covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry.  Following a stint as a copywriter for a Grand Rapids area PR firm, she transitioned from communications to freelance writing and reporting for SNN. Read Alexis' full bio

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