Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

September 22, 2013

Online schools opening nontraditional doors

TRAVERSE CITY — Micah Thoreson is already settled with his schoolwork on his favorite living room chair when other students are riding the morning bus to school.

He’s done with his school day before most students start lunch.

Micah, 12, of Maple City, is one of hundreds of area students studying in virtual schools this year, either partially or fully. Online learning gives them the flexibility to work or compete around their schoolwork, to accelerate their learning or take courses their schools don’t offer, or to travel with their families while still being counted as local students.

Peak hours for online learning are 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., said Suttons Bay Public School District superintendent Mike Murray.

“Education is a different landscape these days,” said Todd Neibauer, director of technology for Traverse City Area Public Schools. “The nature of what people want is changing, and we’re just responding to what they want.”

State law allows public school students in grades five-12 to enroll in up to two online courses in an academic term. But school districts and intermediate school districts can apply for a “seat time waiver” from the state, which gives a certain percentage of their students the opportunity to take more than two online courses at a time.

About 500 TCAPS students studied partially online last year, Neibauer said. Another 20 were fully online. But that number is expected to rise this year with the launch of TCAPS Online Academy, a new full-time online school option this fall for students in grades six through 12. The district’s seat time waiver allows up to 25 percent of its students to study full-time online.

Micah, a homeschooled seventh-grader, began studying online last fall through the Suttons Bay Virtual School. His math, language arts and social studies classes are taught online by Suttons Bay teachers; his science class by one of the district’s online providers.

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