Virtual Academy prepares for third year

By SHERRI KOLADE
Times-Herald Newspapers

HEIGHTS — In less than a week, Dearborn Heights Virtual Academy will begin accepting applications from K-12 students in Wayne County.

Under Dearborn Heights District 7, DHVA is an online public school, developed by the state and will start accepting applications on July 23.

Started in 2009, DHVA began under the state of Michigan’s Department of Education Seat-Time Waiver, a program that requires online course content to match the Michigan Grade Level Content Expectations or the Michigan Merit Curriculum, according to a Michigan Department of Education memorandum.

The online school provides students who might have trouble keeping up in class because of various reasons a second chance, DHVA Director Lynn Wietecha said.

“Students can progress at their own pace,” Wietecha said. “If you are a student who has a real hard time with chemistry, you can review a unit as many times as you want to.”

Wietecha added that in a typical high school, if a student struggles with a subject, they cannot ask the teacher to repeat the entire lecture.

“It is different from a regular high school (because the) teacher needs to move on and more curriculum needs to be covered,” Wietecha said. “One or two students who aren’t getting it can’t hold a whole class back. (Online) they have more control over their schedule. They can spend as much time in a course that they want to… not worried about a bell that rings.”

The DHVA operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, allowing students to attend classes online anytime that fits their schedules, Wietecha said.

“If you are in the middle of a project on geometry you don’t have to go to an English class,” she said.

Wietecha added that when the school opened in 2009, it had mixed success, but has expanded each year since and the success rate improved.

“We all learned a great deal,” Wietecha said. “We discovered students do need a lot of support and we added a tutoring program so students can come in every week. Just because the student is going to school online doesn’t mean they don’t need support from the district.”

DHVA accepts about 55 students per academic year with some fluctuation in numbers during the year.

DHVA typically turns away between 20 and 30 students each year after enrollment is full, Wietecha said.

By design, DHVA wants to keep enrollment numbers low to help give full attention to students, Wietecha said.

“We have a small staff and we want to be able to monitor and intervene when needed and adequately support (students),” she said.

The students also have one-one-one mentors to help them along, and frequent report card updates that include the parent or guardian on their child’s academic status.

After students are selected for the school, there isn’t allowance for slacking off, Wietecha said.

“Students think it is going to be easy and they get a very rude awakening in the first year,” Wietecha said. “Students need to be self- directed and motivated, they can’t be a procrastinator.

“Online learning is not for every student (so we) make sure they are a good candidate,” she said. “It takes a certain kind of student to be successful in an online learning environment.”

(Sherri Kolade can be reached at skolade@bewickpublications.com.)