For years, the Michigan Connections Academy, based in Okemos, has been offering students and families from all across Michigan an alternative way to attend public school. At this school, children in grades K-12 can learn the state curriculum without having to leave the comfort of their homes.
“It’s a really great option for kids who don’t function well in a brick-and-mortar school,” said Hannah Schrauben, a kindergarten teacher for the school. The students that her and her colleagues work with include kids with illnesses who cannot leave their home for school as well as high level athletes who devote most of their day to training.
The children participate in live video lessons or calls with their teachers. The lessons are interactive, allowing kids to signal when they have a question or comment.
“If they want to raise their hand, they can hit [a button] and it’ll pop up right in the corner and say ‘this person has raised their hand’,” said Schrauben.
These features allow kids to practice speaking skills by listening to others and interacting with a larger audience.
“They can clap for their friends and they can laugh for their friends too,” said Schrauben.
For some children, the video monitor of themselves can be distracting, but from a teacher standpoint it is helpful to see how they are responding to the lesson, “We basically require them to turn [the webcams] on, so we can see if they’re one the floor sometimes, and we can redirect them,” said Schrauben.
The school supplies the kids with all the resources needed for their lessons, including a laptop, workbooks and written test materials. The written materials are more common amongst younger children who need to practice skills like writing that cannot be done online.
Just like a traditional public school, students at the Michigan Connections Academy are required to complete Standardized State testing. These tests must be done in person and require the teachers to travel out into the students’ communities to administer the tests.
Adam Smith, a seventh grade math teacher who has been with the Michigan Connections Academy for five years, says that the students make a diverse environment for learning.
“There’s more diversity in the skills they bring to us,” Smith said of the students at the Academy. “Students come with all kinds of abilities, which in a local school…they might not have as much diversity in their family background, which I think has a big impact on our school environment.”
The community has a wide array of reactions to the school. Some at the school have noted that the state and community are often skeptical about the program and looking for it to fail.
Zach Brooks, an Okemos resident, disagrees, arguing that online school may be an important aim for the future. “I think things are moving in that direction,” Brooks said.
Brooks recalled a student from his high school who became ill and had to complete a semester through telecommunication. Had online schooling been more prevalent at the time, this student may have had an easier time.
With or without the support of the community, the Michigan Connections Academy has shaped an impressive reputation for itself.
“We actually have a very high retention rate for a charter school,” said school principal Kelly Tews. “Most charter schools will have more than 50 percent of their students every year leave. We retain about 80 percent of our students year to year.”
Michigan Connections Academy www.ConnectionsAcademy.com/MICA
Hannah Schrauben 517-706-2042
Adam Smith firstname.lastname@example.org
Kelly Tews ktewsmica.connectionsacademy.org