2017-09-14 / News

Atherton Virtual Academy helping students earn diploma

BY TANYA TERRY
810-452-2645 • tterry@mihomepaper.com


Atherton Virtual Academy is helping to decrease the dropout rate by providing a blended learning environment, allowing students to work online at their own pace and receive support from teachers and staff in classrooms. 
Photo provided Atherton Virtual Academy is helping to decrease the dropout rate by providing a blended learning environment, allowing students to work online at their own pace and receive support from teachers and staff in classrooms. Photo provided BURTON — Sept. 19 marks the first day of a school year filled with new opportunity for those already enrolled in Atherton Virtual Academy (AVA), and those who have yet to register. The online school offers a unique way for students to earn a high school diploma or GED.

“Most students who attend Atherton Virtual Academy are those who traditional education has not worked for,” said John Ploof, superintendent of Atherton Community Schools.

“Students have the opportunity to demonstrate what they already know in subjects, and are only responsible to pick up where they left off,” he said “That’s what allows them to earn credits at a rapid pace.”

The program is available to both students living in the Atherton district and those living in other districts.

Online classes allow students allow students to work at their own pace. Traditional high school curriculum courses are offered online, such as physical education (PE), fine arts, foreign languages and SAT prep courses. For PE, there’s a gym on AVA’s site, and students also work with a live physical education instructor.

“For a class like PE it gets tricky,” Ploof said. “Students may be asked to go outside and do something physical. Then, they log their activity and record their progress online.”

AVA uses the model originally developed through the Mount Morris Consolidated Schools for the district’s IGNITE program. The principal of IGNITE is also the principal of AES, and there are also shared administration. The AES program is in its fifth year.

“The Mount Morris schools had a great deal of success with the program,” Ploof said. “So, with our partnership, it made sense to continue using GradPoint.” AES students are required to be in classroom for a minimal number of hours: Monday- Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“We also have a mentor program,” said Nicole Marisa, lead teacher for AES. “Every student is assigned a teacher as a mentor. The mentors meet with students weekly and discuss where they’re struggling or if they need help outside of school. It really helps reduce dropout rates.”

In addition, an interventionist helps students where they are struggling, and works with them on employability skills, such as with mock interviews, cover letters, resumes and job applications.

“Students need to have interaction with teachers, school staff and other students,” Ploof said. “The teachers are highly certificated and other staff is highly qualified. Students need to know someone cares for them. It’s the human element that makes the program so successful.”

In addition, AVA students are allowed to attend homecoming and the prom.

“That wouldn’t be possible if they were strictly involved in online learning,” Ploof said.

The number of students at AVA grew from 29 in the 2013-2014 school year, to 79 in the 2016-2017 school year. The number of graduates from the program continues to grow each year as well, from five in the 2013- 2014 school year, to 21 last school year.

To schedule enrollment in AVA or ask questions, call Sarah Gilmore at 810-591-0850.

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