Virtual School, Real Field Trips

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Kelsey Mainstone had fun learning with her friends at Uncle John's Cider Mill Friday. A fifth grade student, she's been in traditional school, home school, and now likes learning through the Michigan Connections Academy. It's a statewide, online, virtual school that's accredited, and like a regular brick and mortar school, the course fees are paid through tax dollars. Kelsey says the school has a lot of perks.

"It's online, you can lay in bed, you can be in your pajamas. There's videos you can watch," said Kelsey.

A draw back, is that unlike a traditional school, her classmates don't live nearby, but she says they are still close friends.

"We like Skype on the computer a lot, video chat, and stuff like that," said Kelsey.

While the Connections Academy is an online school, they do a lot of things in the physical world. Friday's adventure was the first field trip of the academic year, but before the year is out, they will have gone on about 60 trips. In the spring they take one about every week.

"You know it's not a perfect fit for all families. We know this, you know. It works for some families and it doesn't work for others," Carrie Zopf, a Connections Academy teacher.

Kelsey's mom, who used to teach home school is also a big fan because, among other things, she says the school's curricula is better than traditional schools.

"I like it in the fact that it takes a lot of the planning off of me, and when I was home schooling I would always have that pressure of am I giving her or my son enough of the right things," said Kelly Mainstone, Kelsey's mother.

Each kid enrolled gets a free computer, and some money for monthly internet service.

"Without those distractions like they have in the brick and mortar school, we can really push them harder and harder, push them further to achieve what they can achieve, because we know all students can learn, we just have to get them to feel that way," said Zopf. "I feel like for the first time, I can actually teach each student in my class. I don't have all those distractions, I don't have to break up the fight in the back of the classroom or, you know, I can focus on each student."

Many students would agree, a fun field trip for some traditional face to face interaction doesn't hurt.

The state capped enrollment at 700 students this year. The cap will be removed next year, which means the 1,000 students who wanted in this year will be able to join the school next year.

Next week the school will visit Art Prize in Grand Rapids.

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