OTTAWA COUNTY, Mich. — The West Ottawa Public School District is already seeing success in its new virtual academy.
This fall is the first year, and the district is already planning ahead for an even bigger enrollment next semester.
“I think we knew there was going to be a need for this; we just weren’t sure how many,” said Elaine Stiefel, director of virtual learning for West Ottawa Public Schools.
The program nearly doubled its planned online enrollment for this semester. The district thought there’d be about 50 students but now there’s 90.
“I think that there will always be a need for this,” said Stiefel. “We will always have students that have, you know, family situations where there’s medical situations going on at home, and being in a school environment may not be best for them.”
Some students loved last year’s flexibility with virtual, while others have compromised immune systems and want to stay home.
They also enroll homeschoolers seeking different alternatives for electives.
They do ask that when you join that you stay with the program for a certain amount of time.
“So, for elementary we ask for a year commitment,” said Stiefel. “That’s because of staffing, which is not as flexible taking a teacher directly out of a class for a full year for a virtual setting. For our secondary students it’s a semester commitment, so they enroll at the start of the semester and then at the end of the year — they can choose to return to face-to-face or they can go virtual setting, so we have that flexibility for grades 6–12 for that.”
The K–12 program is a virtual option for anyone in any district around Ottawa County. Even kids from neighboring counties can sign up.
Elementary teachers online are full time while others have hybrid options going from virtual to in-person instruction.
Online classes average about 10 students apiece.
Not only does it give kids and their families more options for learning but they don’t miss out on extracurriculars if they want to be in band or play sports.
“We can’t replicate that as authentically in an online environment as we can as face-to-face,” said Stiefel, “so they’re taking some of their courses online but then showing up into our high school or middle school to take those other electives that like a band or a music.”
The district plans more electives for virtual students as enrollment grows.
Ceramics, chemistry labs and other similar classes only really work in an in-person setting — giving students and families more decisions and flexibility when it comes to the future of their education.
“It gives our high school students and middle school students really a college-level setting,” she said. “So, we have a teacher that they’ll meet once a week with so it’s not just on your own, so they’re meeting once a week with that teacher and have a live session and they’re working on that coursework as well."
If you know someone who would like to enroll in the program or learn more about it, click here.