GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — As the new school year approaches, some parents are having second thoughts about sending their kids back to class, opting for online school instead.
Uplift Michigan is one of the many free public online schools in the state. They've been able to ride out the pandemic fairly unscathed and say some parents are taking notice.
"You're starting the school year four months behind," explained Tonya Lowry, superintendent and principal at Uplift Michigan, "and you've got to figure out how to catch them up."
Lowry herself is the mother of four, and, like all parents, she wonders what the start of the school year is going to look like. One thing she does know is that she's seeing more interest in virtual learning.
According to Lowry, Uplift Michigan is seeing an increase in enrollment, particularly with elementary-age students, when reading and math development is crucial. Lowry believes the increase in virtual lessons is due to some parents worrying about sending their kids back to in-person classes this fall.
"We don't have buildings that they have to go into. They don't have to wear masks. We get to ensure that there's no disruption to their education, regardless of what phase the state's in or their communities."
While the pandemic has had a devastating impact on almost every part of our daily lives, Uplift Michigan has been able to minimize the stress when it comes to getting a good education.
"It's that consistency with making sure that students are in something that is stable," explained Travis Gostinger, CEO of Summit Management.
"We're not new to this," Lowry added. "We've been doing it for a long time, and virtual teaching is hard. You can be an amazing educator and not be a great virtual educator, and vice versa."
Uplift Michigan has figured out a way to not only keep students engaged and hold them accountable but make sure parents are part of the learning process every step of the way.
"We have a system that works seamlessly with our curriculum," Gostinger said. "We can communicate in real-time with the families and watch the progress of the students and how they're performing or where gaps may be in their learning. That way, teachers can dive right in instead of waiting till a unit test or the end of the semester and then figuring out there was an issue."
Regardless of how schools operate come fall, the team at Uplift Michigan just wants parents to do their homework and find what way of learning will work best for their child.
"I think a lot of families don't realize that they have options in this state," Lowry explained. "You have private schools. You have charter schools. You have brick and mortar local districts. You have local districts that aren't your district that you can choose to go to, and there are cyber schools. All those options are good and viable options. You just have to figure out what's best for your students."
Uplift Michigan isn't immune to possible budget cuts this year, but administrators said federal CARES Act dollars will help supplement this year. Budget cuts could mean Uplift Michigan doesn't use some of the additional supplements they provide for students, such as video add-ons or games.
Enrollment is always open, however, parents are encouraged to sign their child up sooner rather than later.