MAPS learns how Michigan Great Lake Virtual Academy operates

Michigan Great Lakes Virtual Academy head of school Kendall Schroeder address his board of education and the Manistee Area Public Schools Board of Education at Wednesday's joint board meeting. It was the first time the two boards have met as MAPS acts as the chartering agent for MGLVA. (Ken Grabowski/News Advocate)

Michigan Great Lakes Virtual Academy head of school Kendall Schroeder address his board of education and the Manistee Area Public Schools Board of Education at Wednesday’s joint board meeting. It was the first time the two boards have met as MAPS acts as the chartering agent for MGLVA. (Ken Grabowski/News Advocate)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a two part series on the online Michigan Great Lakes Virtual Academy (MGLVA) that is chartered by the Manistee Area Public Schools (MAPS). Today’s story will look at how MGLVA delivers curriculum to its students.

MANISTEE — Wednesday’s joint board meeting of the Manistee Area Public Schools and the online Michigan Great Lake Virtual Academy was designed to gain a better understanding of each other.

MGLVA was established in 2013, but this was the first time the two boards of education ever held joint meeting. Both sides emerged from the more than two hour discussion with more knowledge about each other.

MGLVA head of school Kendall Schroeder went over a written report detailing his school and how it operates.

“We have been looking forward to a meeting like this for some time,”said Schroeder. “I am looking forward to building this partnership and relationship even more as we move on in the future.”

ABOUT THE MGLVA

MGLVA’s main office is located in the former Madison Elementary School Building in Manistee, which is rented from MAPS. Being an online school, MGLVA does not need the amount of space that a normal brick and mortar K-12 school district would require.MGLVA lgoo

Since it is the chartering agent, MAPS is also able to claim 3 percent of the $7,631 of per pupil funding MGLVA receives from the state. In 2017-18 that amounted to $603,429.71 based on MGLVA’s 2,635.87 full-time equivalent students.

Schroeder said MGLVA has 93 full-time classroom teachers/academic teachers, 24 special education teachers, five advisers, 11 family academic support team members and 15 Title I Intervention team members.

“Those teachers live in all parts of Michigan,” said Schroeder. “We have some in the Uppper Penisula, some in southeastern Michigan, on the west side of the state and everywhere in between.”

MGLVA has students from all but four counties in the state including a growing population of 22 students from Manistee County.

All students registered are given laptop computers and work out of their homes with teachers online in virtual classrooms and sometimes in more individualized environments. Schroeder pointed out that 16 percent are special education students with various special needs.

“Our enrollment capacity is 3,070 and we were just shy of that number this year, but some of our grade levels were full,” he said.

Schroeder said they also have lots of support people in place to assist the students in this unique learning environment.

“We do have lots of Title I intervention teachers as we get about $1 million in funding from Title I,” said Schroeder. “That allows us to meet the growing population of needs in our students.”

SCHROEDER

SCHROEDER

They also have a Family Academic Support team that includes advisers, school social workers, engagement coordinators. That group works with students on an individual basis depending upon their needs.

“It is a real vital part of our program,” he said. “Those people serve a growing environment as we increased our enrollment this year by 200 students.”

Schroeder said the increase was primarily done to support their Destinations Career program that will offer career tech education programs. Those will include classes in business management, finance, marketing and health science.

VIRTUAL CLASSROOMS

Schroeder said what most people don’t realize is MGLVA provides its students with a virtual classroom. Similar in some regards to a brick and mortar classroom.

“That classroom is as state-of-the-art as we can make it,” said Schroeder. “It is growing, changing and evolving every day.”

Schroeder said MGLVA faces different challenges with students than traditional schools.

“We know that there is need for that physical connection and emotional one as well,” he said. “So we are striving for the way to build that.”

He said they are tasking their teachers to do that every day.

“It is difficult as we have a student population that is struggling,” he said. “Many are not leaving their traditional brick and mortar schools because they are fully happy, but because they are struggling. Something is driving them for a different choice and our job is to find out what that is and how we can help and support them in their journey.”

Schroeder said sometimes students find out MGLVA is not a good fit for them.

“They might struggle if they don’t have the right support, so we try to put the supports in place that we can,” said Schroeder.

He said their program at the elementary level is similar to a traditional program with a K-5 grade level. They join a live online classroom at 9 a.m. to start their day.

“Our teachers are instructing live in a blackboard classroom and are interacting with a group of students throughout the day,” said Schroeder. “It is a time where students can be in a large group classroom or as a small classroom depending upon the needs of that student.”

They teach from the K12 Inc. developed curriculum, with which the school contracts, and they also utilize other supplement curriculum.

Students also do lessons and activities offline. But he said there quite often is one-to-one contact like when they are working on reading and other lessons.

“With the third grade reading legislation that makes it a challenge for us,” he said. “We have to put together an individualized reading plan for each one of our students in order for them to move on past that grade.

“There is this misnomer out there that we just give the kids the material and let them log on and do whatever they want to do and maybe check in with a teacher every now and then,” he said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth.”

BUSTING MYTHS

Elementary principal Naomi Lepley said that it runs much like a traditional school.

“They come to class be it reading or math and interact with their teacher,” she said. “They do their work, use their web cams and raise their hands, but they just are doing it from their house. We send books home with the kids; they are interacting with their teacher and that is what our school is. They are with a highly qualified teacher in a classroom, and that is the biggest myth. It is so traditional, yet so new at the same time.”

She said another misnomer is the teacher-student ratio. The goal is for teachers to have about 180 students total, which is the same as a regular high school.

“We divide it up as each student has six classes a day and they rotate through them, so the teacher doesn’t have them all at once. It is usually around 50 kids at a time.”

The middle school program is an extension of the online high school.

“It is very similar in they are switching classes throughout the day,” said Schroeder.

PROVIDING SUPPORT

One thing he pointed out that is vital to success is the parents need to play a role. He said they refer to them as the learning coach for their child. The commitment is something that often plays an important role in the success of the child.

“The connection of the student-teacher relationship is vital, but we do rely on the parents,” he said. “It is building that relationship with the parent and family that is important. Not only to engage that student, but to make sure they are online.”

MGLVA board president Dave Ohman said they frequently see students leaving because the parents don’t buy into that philosophy.

“Maybe the student is happy, but the parents can’t cope with it,” he said.

Schroeder said parents working also is a challenge, because it produces a situation where the parent either doesn’t have the time or is gone when the student is supposed to be online studying.

“That is where we really need to bring in some support with our family academic support team,” he said. “There are social workers, advisers and others to help the students.”

ACCOUNTABILITY

At the high school level courses are delivered by semester. Courses consist of multiple units, lessons and activities.

“Teachers deliver lectures live online, while students work through designed lessons that allows them to fill their own personal daily schedules,” said Schroeder.

Courses provide tools like a teacher syllabus and announcements and a “raise your hand area” to ask course related questions to the instructor.

Schroeder pointed out that it isn’t just academically struggling students who come to MGLVA.

Students who may be unable to attend a traditional school for health reasons, because they are pursuing musical, athletic or other endeavors seek out the school because of the flexibility.

However, what does prove to be a challenge is the state M-STEP testing.

“Even though we are an online school we are required to bring students to a variety of testing locations around the state that we have to rent,” said Schoeder. “We try to locate testing sites an hour from a student’s home, but in certain cases they may need to travel longer.”

He said that is another challenge that can impact their scores, but they are trying to show continued improvement in those scores.

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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