Virtual school reaching out to local districts

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 6:00 pm on Friday, September 21, 2012

BELDING — After partnering with Greenville Public Schools in August to offer high school drop-outs a chance to earn their diploma via a virtual school, Berrien Springs Virtual Academy is now reaching out to neighboring school districts.

Among those are Belding Area Schools, Carson City-Crystal Area Schools and Tri County Area Schools.

During Monday night’s Belding school board meeting, Dallas Bell, executive director of partner schools, gave a 10-minute presentation informing board members of the new West Michigan Virtual School, located at 8153 Satterlee Road in Greenville.

Greenville’s partnership with the virtual school allows students to take classes at both Greenville High School and West Michigan Virtual School and Bell is hoping that Belding Area Schools will follow suit.

“We’re recapturing and reengaging with kids that all of us have lost along the way,” Bell said. “It’s not to any fault of our own, it’s just that sometimes traditional schools don’t fit for some students.”

Bell said the primary reason students drop out of high school is because of a “lack of hope.”

“Students drop out of school because they have to work, because they’ve become pregnant or because they became involved in drugs, but we all know students who have made it through those obstacles,” he said. “The real reason why kids drop out is because of the lack of hope that they can graduate and a lack of hope that they can find a job.”

Belding High School Principal Brett Zuver said he thought the virtual school program “was a great idea.”

“It’s not that (Bell) is trying to come in and take students out of Belding High School,” Zuver said. “It’s for students who have already tried it here at the high school or tried an alternative education program and it didn’t work. There are still students here in our community that have completely dropped out and washed their hands of school and this is their chance.”

The virtual school’s curriculum includes math, social studies, language arts, science, several electives and three foreign languages. But the aspect of the program that generated Zuver’s interest most was the internship program the virtual school offers.

According to Bell, 27 local companies have partnered with West Michigan Virtual School, offering students a chance to earn experience in the work field while taking classes at the school.

“We’ve gone to the hospital, Mersen, Greenville Tool & Die, Ace Hardware, many different companies, and asked if they would take on our students,” Bell said. “Every single business, all 27 of them, said yes and they are willing to take on interns.”

Belding Interim Superintendent Sara Shriver said there are no plans to partner with West Michigan Virtual School at this time, but she said the district’s ability to point former students to the virtual school is a good first step.

“The only collaborative effort that we are providing is if we know of students out there who could use this program, we will give them information about the program,” Shriver said. “We’re just happy about the opportunity for those kids to have another option.”

Board President Tom Humphreys said board members will likely wait to reflect on Greenville’s experience in the first year of partnering with the virtual school.

“We haven’t had extensive discussions on this, but there is potential,” Humphreys said. “Right now this is just a first step and we will see how it goes. We will probably monitor what Greenville’s experience with the program is.”

Bell said his desire to create a virtual school in Belding and Greenville stems from the idea of showing former high school students that there is a place in their own community that wants to reach out and help them.

“We want these virtual schools to create a blended learning environment so the students that need the support aren’t on their own,” he said. “They could eventually come into the school here in town and have support right here in Belding.”

The West Michigan Virtual School is currently over capacity with 67 students enrolled.

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