Online charter school fosters environment of inclusion, self-identification

LANSING, MI. (WILX) - In this edition of Schools Rule, WILX News 10 is featuring one Lansing-area principal who is making sure every student has a safe, healthy learning environment.

Pieter Hoekstra is the Principal of the Insight School of Michigan. It is an online, public cyber school. Hoekstra says feeling included in your studies is important-even if you are getting those lessons on a screen.

"Students that otherwise would not be able to graduate for whatever reason, whether it's social, emotional, physical, whatever-they have been able to walk across the graduation stage cap and gown, full deal, and I'm shaking hands," Pieter Hoekstra beamed.

And that is part of what Mr. Hoekstra says makes his job so worth it.

"A lot of students choose our school because they feel safe," Hoekstra explained.

Hoekstra himself is an immigrant from the Netherlands. He's started an initiative called 'Write Your Story.'

Unique to Insight, it is meant to foster an atmosphere of acceptance and inclusion, even in an online learning environment.

"We noticed that students who were being bullied, who weren't feeling safe in their traditional schools were coming to us and we were hearing these stories," said Hoekstra.

Students at Insight are able to self-identify. Hoekstra says that is something they may not be able to do as easily in a traditional school environment.

"If they want to go by a different name or a different gender identity, we allow them to do that very easily. They can represent themselves online in that environment, in that classroom space and sort of the social structures that we build for them in a way that best fits them," explained Hoekstra. "They can come to us and they can say, 'I want to be called by this name and this gender' and we can go into the system and make sure that whenever they log into a classroom that's how their name shows up. Instead of having to explain to every classroom you walk into, 'This is who I am, this is how I identify. Even though it's not how I look, this is who I am.' It really, especially for students who are really coming to terms with who they are, it's a nice safe landing space," Hoekstra continued.

Hoekstra says he and his staff know that is an important responsibility for their roughly 800 students.

"It's powerful," Hoekstra explained. "Knowing that the students who choose us as a school don't have many other options-quite often, they don't have a whole lot of other options. We know that being the last best chance quite often for a number of our students really puts a lot of weight on our shoulders. We do a lot of hard work to be able to make sure that we are able to wrap ourselves around the students who need that extra support to get them across that finish line.”

Insight School serves the entire state of Michigan.

There is more information on their programs here.

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