Coronavirus causing challenges for virtual academy’s learning

Originally published in The Manistee News Advocate – March 17, 2020

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, it caused all of the schools in Manistee County to go on an extended spring break for the next three weeks.

The lone school in this area that still is holding regular classes is the Michigan Great Lakes Virtual Academy (MGLVA), which is housed in Manistee and has more than 3,000 students spread out across the State of Michigan. Although all of those students do their learning online, MGLVA Head of School Kendall Schroeder said many people would be surprised how the coronavirus has impacted their educational process.

“You would think that it would be regular business for us for learning as we have all the mechanisms in place and our teachers are in place which is all true,” said Schroeder. “Our kids know how to learn in this format and we know how to teach in it, But we are also realizing and understanding some things we didn’t expect.”

He said one of the factors is many of his teachers send their children to the brick and mortar schools. When those schools are closed, like Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered last week, it means those children are now at home where their parents usually work teaching the MGLVA students online.

“Those kids are typically not there and many of their daycare and people who watch their children on those days off are now closed because of the coronavirus,” said Schroeder. “Now those teachers have to provide childcare for their children and teach during the day. That is a big challenge right now for our teachers and staff.”

Schroeder said on Tuesday morning he spoke with one of his administrators on how they provide support for a teacher when they suddenly have four or five kids at home now. So he said they had to look at what type of expectations they have for those teachers right now.

“Another piece of it is we have a lot of students from our school who now have their siblings home who attend a brick and mortar school that is closed,” said Schroeder. “Some of our students are frustrated because their siblings aren’t required to do any school work, but they are. So I have heard from a lot of students who say their brother or sister was home and now they have to take care of them, and how can they do their school work. So that is a real issue.”

He said another concern for some parents is they are usually home all day helping with the MGLVA student. However, now they have those extra children that go to a brick and mortar school home, so it is difficult to support their MGLVA student who is still going to school.

“So understanding all that and the challenges that come with that, we decided there was a need to modify some of our programs to accommodate not only for the teachers, but the students and their families,” said Schroeder. “Typically, we would have school from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. and have different sessions throughout the day that students would log into to interact with other students or teachers.”

He said they are allowing teachers to modify their schedule. They have less live sessions and more recorded ones to modify their schedules for some flexibility not only for the students, but the parents at home as well.

“The teachers are sending those recorded lessons to the students so they can do them when they can,” said Schroeder. “Our goal for now is to move away from the accountability side of things where we are telling the students to be on the computer during the day, to a supportive role of seeing how we can help their learning at this time. That is really our mindset as we want to show love and grace to these families and our staff as well. The only way we can do this at this uncertain time is to allow for some of that flexibility.”

He said by accessing the recordings, the students can keep learning.

“I have heard from a lot of families and they appreciate us looking at that, and thinking about it,” he said.

Schroeder said April 6 is the first deadline for the brick and mortar schools to return to classes, but he can easily envision it going beyond that time frame.

“The other side of it is state testing and for us that is different — we run state test sites all across the state,” said Schroeder. “A lot of those sites are closed right now and they might still be when it comes time for that state testing. I know the state is looking at testing for all schools, but if they do end up going along with keeping testing I know we will have a problem with a lot of families not wanting to go to testing locations or it might not be available.”

Schroeder said that when Whitmer made her statement last Thursday, they weren’t sure if it applied to them. He said once they learned they were allowed to continue with classes, they did so.

“I do think we can remain open, but we have to change how we do some things and allow for some of that flexibility as more things get closed down,” he said.

He said they have students spread across the state, but the bulk of them are downstate in Wayne and Oakland counties where the impact has been different than in the Upper Peninsula.

“There are different challenges for different families, and we are sharing some resources with our families to handle those challenges,” he said.

He said their Manistee home at the former Madison Elementary School building is closed.

“We are going in once a day to handle mail and check on business things,” said Schroeder. “We are following the lead of the Manistee Area Public Schools and just doing those things that have to be done.”

Schroeder said these are definitely interesting times for education, but they are doing everything possible to help students, teachers and staff make it through.

To learn more about Michigan Great Lakes Virtual Academy, visit https://mglva.k12.com/

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