For many Flint families, back-to-school advertisements for new crayons and book bags mask what can be a time of discontentment and even fear. Common knowledge informs us that many children have struggled to adapt to the public system; long hours, a lack of interaction, and an absence of personalized attention can contribute to students falling behind in their classwork. Every parent dreads hearing that their child is having difficulty, but with children away all day, it can be difficult to stay actively involved. For schoolchildren in Flint and Genesee County, however, a new option for education promises to change our notions about what school is, thanks to a partnership between Kettering University and Oxford Virtual Academy.
Oxford Virtual Academy is an online school that offers a different style of education from that provided by most public school systems. Begun in 2007, online education from the Oxford school system has to date changed the lives of thousands of students in southeastern Michigan. “For many students who do not learn in traditional ways or have other circumstances – emotional or health issues, bullying issues, participation in a traveling sport or work – this program allows them the flexibility to earn an Oxford Schools diploma,” said Janet Schell, a mentor at Oxford. As a school of choice, OVA offers students K-12 free access to seven different online course providers, as well as custom-designed courses to match their needs, interests and learning styles. In addition to access to these online programs, enrollment gives kids personal support and tutoring from educators and mentors via video conferencing, email, instant messaging, phone calls, and face-to-face meetings at labs set up in different cities. Access, class materials and educator support are all free for Genesee County residents. Janet says that mentorship is a key factor in the success of the virtual academy. “Mentors are really guides and coaches,” she said. “They are the ‘go to’ people for any questions or concerns: a confidant as well as the one who helps students with pacing, progress and curriculum issues.” Participation in athletic teams and clubs at Oxford Community schools is also open to those who enroll in four or more virtual classes, in addition to receiving free admission to all Oxford athletic events, musicals and plays.
This school year, one of Oxford’s mobile Virtual Academy labs will be in Flint in order to better serve the OVA students of Genesee County. Kettering University has given OVA space to install their lab at the Kettering Campus Center. Marta Wyngaard-Tavakoli, a mother of two homeschooled children, says that OVA has not only given her children access to top-quality education from their home, it has also given her more input and control over that education. “At OVA, parents once again have a say in the education of their children, and they can choose from a range of options that will not only fit, but also push their child to excel,” she said. With the arrival of the lab at Kettering, Marta expects that OVA will become increasingly popular in Genesee County, as kids no longer have to travel to the OVA lab in Oxford Charter Township for tutoring and testing.
Kip Darcy, Vice President of Kettering University, says that Kettering is proud to partner with OVA to provide the space for their lab. “We want to provide families interested in virtual instructional with necessary resources and infrastructure. From a community engagement and potential student perspective, it just makes sense to create a touch-down center for Oxford’s virtual enrollees in Flint,” he said.
Oxford Virtual Academy strikes a balance between the best of both worlds: homeschooling and public school. Parents have the opportunity to play a direct role in their children’s education without incurring the disagreeable task of teaching subjects that they may struggle with themselves. Additionally, OVA makes school fit into a family’s lifestyle: online classes, although they require self-discipline on the part of the student, allow considerable freedom to the kids who take them. For every family that has ever lamented about the drudgeries of school, it is time to do something about it: research Oxford Virtual Academy and see how online learning is changing education forever. “I have found” said Janet, “that many students blossom here because they are confident and are thriving in an environment with a customized curriculum. We offer so many opportunities to help students succeed as well as a great deal of one-on-one support and care.”