Distance Learning

Virtual School Adds Physical Presence

A small school district with an online school option that draws students from 11 school districts in the region is teaming up with a religious charter school in western Michigan to open and staff a storefront tutoring center. Berrien Springs Public Schools, which operates West Michigan Virtual, will be opening a physical operation in Grand Rapids in January. The district is working with Grand Rapids-based Hope Academy West Michigan, a charter that serves at-risk K-12 students.

The Berrien virtual program outfits a student with a laptop computer, a wireless card and access to online courses, including Edgenuity MyPath for math and language arts and powerspeak for foreign language studies. Students can work through the courses on their own schedules, test out of classes, take advanced placement or other classes for college credit and participate in internships at local companies.

The online option opened in 2009 initially serving Berrien Springs students. Eventually, other districts that were reducing or closing their virtual offerings signed on as partners with Berrien to offer its programs to their students. Enrollment has grown to 2,260 students. Currently, 75 percent of them come from outside the district and many take just a single course through the virtual school.

The district runs a local center at its campus for in-person tutoring, staffed by teachers and paraprofessionals who offer on-site mentoring and help. The newest center is intended to serve students from other districts, which are located all around the state. Under the new arrangement the center will be open from 7:30 to 2 three days a week and until 6 p.m. two days a week and will be staffed primarily through Hope Academy.

Berrien Springs Superintendent Jim Bermingham told a local newspaper that he expects to meet with school leaders at districts in the area about opening his operation's services to their students. A 2013 report on the district by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy quoted Bermingham as saying that the efforts to reach students outside of the boundaries of his district were motivated by wanting to make a difference. "We have to change the concept of education with these [geographical] boundaries of responsibility."

The center recently ranked Berrien Springs' high school 209th out of 659 in a study that reported on high school performance.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.