Virtual academy offers new choice in education

Concord Community Schools’ administrators hold a Leadership Team meeting at the district’s new MOVE UP Academy.

DUNLAP — Concord Community Schools has a new virtual academy for the new school year designed to offer high school students an option to a traditional brick-and-mortar setting, officials said.

The school is called the MOVE UP Academy – an acronym for Minutemen Optimizing Virtual Education to Unleash Possibility. It is located in the lower level of Concord Intermediate School.

 “We want to provide students who are looking for different types of educational experiences that’s not the traditional face-to-face setting,” said Denise Tahara, college and career readiness and alternative school coordinator at Concord. She will oversee the new academy.

The school will serve as a bridge to students who may need it for personal reasons, have an interest or to allow for flexibility in scheduling, Tahara said.

“That could be because there’s a conflict with the class that they’re taking traditionally, or that students are interested in getting out and doing work-based learning opportunities, like the career center,” she said. “And it works a lot easier if we have classes that are more flexible than what can be offered to meet some of those businesses and experiential needs. We’re basically going slow to go fast with some of our opportunities.”

There has been a growing interest in the academy, Tahara said. So far, there are over 40 students enrolled in the first semester and over 50 in the second semester, and those numbers could increase, she said.

The academy will offer five virtual courses this year: English 12, integrated chemistry and physics, environmental science, algebra II and computer science I.

Courses will serve students in grades 10 through 12 and will be taught by existing staff at Concord: Two high school teachers and two junior high teachers who are credentialed to teach high school level courses. Tahara will be teaching the computer science course.

“The teachers will have one period of the day that they will be scheduled to be here and while they’re here they will be having office hours and online interacting with student learning activities,” Tahara said.

The students taking the courses may not be at the academy at the same time as their teacher. There’s a lot of asynchronous learning, Tahara said, which allows students to work at their own pace and place, completing coursework within defined time limits, she said.

For example, she said,  “If the third period is when a student is scheduled for their virtual class and they’re at the high school during that time, they could walk over here for a class period and return to the high school,” Tahara said. “And I think that’s the beauty of this program; it allows the students to go back and participate in every other activity during the school day. There’s no type of boundaries or barriers on that.”

After-school study lounge

In addition to providing students with another option of learning, the MOVE UP Academy will also serve as a study lounge.

One of the most notable changes at Concord High School and the district’s other school buildings is the new start and dismissal times.

Now, high school students will be dismissed at 3:20 p.m. – 30 minutes later than the previous year.

The academy will stay open until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and all Concord high school students will be able to use the space to work individually or do group work, Tahara said.

The academy contains breakout rooms and booths where students will have access to the internet. Also, there will be a lounge area where snacks and coffee will be available for purchase.

Students will also be able to connect their Chromebooks to the TVs to enlarge their screens for group work and presentations.

“It’ll be kind of like a college lounge,” Tahara said. “All of the furniture is easy to move around so students can work in groups. It’s a very fast-moving, flexible learning environment. There’s enough group spaces, repair spaces, individual spaces so students can find their niche of what’s a comfortable place for them.”

‘Serves all students’

Concord students in need of an alternative program previously have been commuting to Merit Learning Center, 801 W. Wilkinson St., Goshen.

Merit is an accredited alternative school that serves five public school corporations in Elkhart County for students in grades 11 and 12. It operates two sessions during the school day and courses are self-paced, with the Apex Learning program used to deliver much of the curriculum.

Students who attend Merit typically meet one of five criteria: Behind in credits, intended to withdraw, a parent or expected parent, employed or a disruptive student. With MOVE UP, Tahara said, the district will be able to serve a wider spectrum of students.

“This program we’re offering is for any student,” she said. “We want to offer a wider variety scale of students to be able to come here regardless of their need or purpose. It’s not what people think is a typical alternative student, it’s really just a choice students have and they can still be a part of their school community.”

Some Concord students, however, will continue to attend Merit, Tahara said. 

“Right now, we may not offer the courses that a student needs to where they would choose Merit,” she said. 

According to Tahara, the goal of the academy is to increase opportunities for students to keep them on the Concord campus so they are connected with other aspects of education, activities including music programs or sports, for example.

“MOVE UP is about the students – helping to support them and meet their needs,” Tahara said. “And I think what this space and this program does is it honors students’ modes of learning and knowing that if they feel more empowered to take control of their learning this way that we’re respecting that.  Also, I think knowing that not all students need all the support that they get in a traditional face-to-face setting and the type of support virtual education provides honors their learning better.”

Classes at Concord Community Schools resume on Wednesday.

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