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Cyber schools advance education options for teens

Cyber Schools
Cyber Schools
Kristen Wilkerson

With the fast changing educational arena in Michigan and across the country, the look of a classroom is evolving. Teachers often juggle increased student loads as a result, making it even tougher to create individualized learning plans or keep up with applying research.

A new type of high school has emerged as an alternate type of educational institution. These are growing in popularity as many students in "brick and mortar" schools face increased amounts of bullying, lack of connection, and increased dropout rates. From offering individualized curriculums, safety from working at home, and a flexible pacing schedule, virtual high schools' popularity is growing quickly in Michigan.

Take, for example, Great Lakes Cyber Academy. Teachers meet in Okemos, Michigan, at a central office to collaborate on their assigned students. They touch base with students frequently via web and phone in one-to-one and small group discussions. Students are allowed to call their teachers or counselor any time during the day to ask questions. The grades 9-12 charter academy allows any high school student who resides in Michigan to enroll. They also provide a year-round school option for fast-paced students or those who may want to take fewer classes at a time and go at a slower pace. Additional events such as field trips, state testing, online clubs, and collaborative projects allow students to create friendships with other virtually educated students.

Another school, Nexus Academy of Lansing, is a blended high school offering both in person and virtual coursework. Students attend part of the day in the physical classroom (also in Okemos), and then spend the rest of the day completing their classes on a computer with an individualized curriculum. This option allows students to complete courses such as gym classes or art with other students and develop local friendships.

Finally, a third virtual school encompasses K-12 and is again centralized in Okemos. It is called the Michigan Connections Academy, and is authorized by the Ferris State University Charter Schools Office. Teachers interact with students and their learning coaches, while students attend from home. They have the benefit of offering gifted and talented programs as well as using peer tutoring.

These cyber schools are growing quickly. For example, one of them grew from zero to over 200 students in a matter of months. The word spreads quickly among families of a rigorous, individualized curriculum. Many home-schooled students are switching to public education via cyber schools. Their parent transitions from teacher to learning coach.

In the end, the goals of brick-and-mortar and cyber schools are the same -- help students graduate. Cyber schools offer students who want to focus on academics instead of social distractions an opportunity to thrive. All materials, including digital textbooks and the computer, are provided to each family. Cyber schools meet the needs of prodigies or students who travel for say, Olympic training. Cyber teachers are certified and meet the same requirements of traditional public school teachers. Given all that cyber education can offer, it appears that cyber schools are here to stay.