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Virtual school brings diverse districts, students together

Pandemic necessity becoming sought-after option

Kelloggsville—Maria Weiss and Isaiah Rosa are in different grades and came from different school districts, but both have similar things to say this year about their experience at Kelloggsville Virtual School.

Isaiah Rosa is doing his senior year as a KVS student (courtesy)

Isaiah is a senior and next year plans to work with his dad, learning the ropes of the real estate business. He switched to KVS this year from the West Michigan Aviation Academy, mostly, he said, because of COVID concerns. 

“It hurt to leave such a great school, but this one is also amazing,” he said. “I personally like the flexibility and freedom of virtual. And the teachers are so helpful, willing to meet with you and help you. You just gotta ask.”

Maria, a sixth-grader, said the same about her transition from East Grand Rapids to KVS.

“I really like being able to control my schedule,” she said. “It has helped me learn how to pace myself and be productive, follow up with my assignments and check in with my teachers whenever I need. Teachers hold office hours and also respond after hours if I need them.”

KVS began as a response to the coronavirus pandemic when the district, like all others in Michigan, had to find ways to offer education virtually. 

But as the pandemic progressed, and students and teachers were able to return to in-person learning, people in the district began to brainstorm about what it might look like to offer a virtual option on a permanent basis.

Benefits of Coming Together

After much planning, KVS launched this year with just over 100 students.

For KVS Director Beth Taylor, a former Kelloggsville teacher and principal, this year has been a blast as she has watched months of planning come to fruition and as she hears the positive feedback from students and parents.

“Seeing students excel in education in a different format is gratifying,” she said.

Taylor also has appreciated the benefits that have come from having students from different districts learn alongside one another.

Maria Weiss is a sixth-grader at KVS (courtesy)

“When we started out, we thought this would be just for Kelloggsville students,” she said. “To see the opportunities that our students are experiencing through discussions from students in a rural community, urban community and suburbia has been an unexpected bonus.”

Melanie Shell-Weiss, Maria’s mother, agreed.

“We have appreciated Maria being able to learn with a more diverse group of classmates,” said Shell-Weiss. “She has enjoyed being able to talk with students who come from a wide range of places and backgrounds, including other families who have immigration stories much like our own family.”

Shell-Weiss said that though they live in the East Grand Rapids school district, their family chose KVS to start the 2021-22 school year for a number of reasons, including (at the time) Maria’s ineligibility for the COVID vaccine and family members who are immunocompromised. 

‘We see the value for all students to be able to learn from each other in a virtual classroom with others their age who are from a variety of backgrounds and life experiences.’

– Director Beth Taylor

Initially, they had planned only to do the fall virtually, but their experience was so good that they stayed on for the winter, too.

“And now,” said Shell-Weiss, “the experience has so exceeded our expectations that we are now grappling with what to do for next year. We have had a fantastic year with Kelloggsville.”

Easier Mornings

An unexpected virtual school bonus, said Shell-Weiss, is an easier start to the school day.

“As the mother of a daughter who is not a morning person, our mornings are so much easier than they were with physical school,” she said. “We get to have breakfast together and plan out the day ahead. Although we made this choice because of COVID, it has been an unexpected and wonderful thing to get to spend so much time with my kids during this critical life stage.”

Former Kelloggsville teacher and principal Beth Taylor heads up the district’s new virtual school

She also appreciates that KVS teachers establish clear guidelines and expectations, and, she added, the curriculum management platform is easy to navigate and makes it easy for students to see and access daily work assigned and to know when assignments are due.

For 2022-23, Taylor said, she is in talks with other public school districts about making KVS their virtual school option.

“We see the value for all students to be able to learn from each other in a virtual classroom with others their age who are from a variety of backgrounds and life experiences,” she said. “We feel this allows our students to learn with a more global perspective.”

LeeAnn Stephan, assistant superintendent of instruction at East Grand Rapids, said when the district was in the process last year of exploring K-6 virtual options, it was looking for something local that would provide more support for its students than previous virtual options. 

KVS checked the right boxes and the option for students to attend some sessions in person was especially appealing, she said. And since East students who attend KVS are still EGRPS students, they also are supported by that district.

A Big Shelby Contingent

Shelby Superintendent Tim Reeves was equally impressed when he first began talks with Taylor and the Kelloggsville team. 

Tim Reeves is the superintendent of Shelby Public Schools, which has 20 students in KVS (courtesy)

Reeves, who spent 17 years in Kelloggsville as a teacher and administrator, said his goal for Shelby initially was to replicate the Kelloggsville model. But he soon realized that almost a year’s worth of work and planning had gone into KVS, time he and his team did not have, so the decision was made to join Kelloggsville’s virtual option.

This year, 20 Shelby students are doing KVS, and Reeves said for a few of them their success rate academically has increased. But others began the year with KVS before realizing, in conversation with Shelby, that they would be better off academically in an in-person setting.  

Taylor is not surprised to hear that.

Virtual school is not for everybody, she said. But she believes it will always be a good option for a number of different kinds of students, including high school students who might need flexibility with their work schedules, school of choice students who have transportation issues, students with medical needs or mental health concerns, teen parents or those who don’t feel they fit in or struggle with bullying.

“The pandemic showed us the possibilities for virtual education,” Taylor said. “It also showed us that virtual education wasn’t going away and could continue to be a good choice for families for multiple reasons beyond the pandemic.”

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Phil de Haan
Phil de Haan covers East Grand Rapids and Kelloggsville and is the lead reporter for Grand Rapids. He hails from Exeter, Ontario (but has called Grand Rapids home since 1985) and is the son of a longtime public school teacher who taught both English and machine shop. Phil took both classes at South Huron District High School, but English stuck, and at Calvin College, where he met his wife, Sue, he majored in English and minored in journalism. His background includes both journalism and public relations, including teaching an advertising and PR course at the college level for almost a decade. In the summer of 2019, he began his own writing and communications business, de Haan Communications. In his spare time, Phil plays pick-up hockey and pickleball and tries to keep tabs on his two adult children. Read Phil's full bio

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