“We chose online because he can pretty much do it at his own pace, which is a huge plus for him,” said mom Amy Thoreson, who works from home. “He’s really intelligent. He loves to learn but he didn’t like all the interactions that go on in a regular school program: the other kids, the breaks. And he’s actually doing it at a faster pace than with a regular school program.”
Being enrolled in the district allowed Micah to represent Suttons Bay last year in the region’s spelling bee. It also lets him come to school for classes he can’t get online, like the French culture class he’s taking now. Band, choir, gym and sports are other face-to-face options.
Micah’s experience prompted his sister, Jenaya Thoreson, 9, to start virtual school this fall. Only instead of enrolling in Suttons Bay Virtual School, the fourth-grader chose Great Lakes K12 Virtual School, a new public school consortium of the Crawford-AuSable, Manistee and Suttons Bay Public Schools.
The consortium or “super virtual district” will allow the schools to compete with larger cyber schools run by universities contracting with corporations, said Murray, who estimates Great Lakes will draw 200 to 300 students its first year.
“Before the consortium, we had online learning that was available to our students in our ISD and the ISDs in surrounding counties through Suttons Bay Virtual School,” Murray said. “We realized very quickly that small schools aren’t going to be able to compete on their own. So we formed an inter-local agreement that allows us to work together and share our resources and powers. Draw a line across the state to Clare and north to the bridge, and that’s where we can take students from.”
While many once looked askance at online learning, considering it a “fad” or the next “correspondence school,” most now recognize it as a legitimate and important component of education. Still, virtual schools aren’t without their detractors.