Virtual learning on the rise in West Michigan: blended learning at Kent ISD

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KENT COUNTY, Mich. – Last year in Michigan, the number of courses students are taking online nearly doubled to about 300,000. Educators say it’s a piece of technology in the classroom that is not going away, but does not have to take over, either.

About 400 students in Kent County are on a different track to earn their high school diploma.

“It makes me want to come to school every day,” said David Lloyd, My School @Kent senior.

It’s called My School @Kent, a type of blended learning where students spend at least 2.5 hours each week at the Kent ISD learning virtually, and then the other time at their local school, whether that is public, parochial, or homeschool.

“You’re actually doing something by yourself, or with someone, and you don’t have to sit there and listen, and not worry about looking dumb if you ask a question that everyone else knows the answer to, but you don’t,” said Andy, My School @Kent junior.

Students at the Kent Career Tech Center work on computers doing classwork at their own pace, but “highly-qualified” teachers are always present. Courses offered are half-credit and students complete them on average in six weeks. Director of Kent ISD Blended Programs Scott Vashaw said he believes this technology will not replace teacher positions.

“Technology will not replace teachers, and teachers that embrace technology, and use it as a tool to make them more effective, will be fine,” said Vashaw.

Some students said they enrolled because they faced constant bullying. Now they choose to learn on campus here full-time.

“I used to get picked on a lot because of the way that I dressed and stuff, but here I haven’t been judged here,” said Lloyd. “I met a lot of cool people, made a lot of friends.”

Others came into the program behind in credits, but are now graduating early.

“I wouldn’t have graduated until I was 19; I could have graduated by the end of this year if I had wanted to,” said Andy.

It is a kind of educational fusion, where students at all skill levels take the reins.

“What it boils down to is the ability to truly personalize the experience,” said Vashaw.

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