Getting to head of class can happen online, too

April 12, 2010
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Grand Rapids Public Schools are taking some hits from parents regarding plans to provide online classes to students next year. The district also uses Michigan Virtual School. Students will decide which core courses to take. They also can select to have a class online, a blend of both online and classroom, or regular classes.

John Helmholdt, director of communications and external affairs for GRPS, told Capital News Service that education needs to catch up with today’s technology.

“The world has passed us as a state and country,” said Helmholdt.

He said that not every student learns the same way. Some prefer online classes to sitting in a classroom all day.

Helmholdt said that classes will be supervised and supported by certified teachers.

“An online school site can provide an at-home opportunity to districts for students who are home schooled, who want privacy, enhance studies and help with revenue,” he said.

The CNS report noted both middle and high school students in Michigan can take required courses online.

The Michigan Virtual School has been around for 11 years. According to CNS, the Michigan Virtual School is tuition-based. School districts pay when their students take classes as part of a school schedule. When students take classes on their own, then students pay. Tuition ranges between $100 to $275 per course.

Many schools allow students to take the online classes during a regular school period in a computer lab or media center. If not, then they take courses outside of a regular schedule. It’s recommended for students to have a computer at home but they can also access the classes on a public library computer.

When students log in, they see assignments and instructions from their teacher. Communication between students and teachers can be through e-mail, message boards and instant messaging and even by phone. Students can also interact with each other.

Scott Vashaw, associate director of the Michigan Virtual School, said students decide to take courses online for many reasons.

“We see students who take a course because their school didn’t provide it or they couldn’t take it due to a conflicting schedule,” Vashaw said. He said courses also are available for students who flunked a class and want to take it again online. In addition, students choose online classes over traditional classrooms to avoid bullying, teachers they don’t like and early classes.

Don Meyers, superintendent of Vestaburg Community Schools, said small districts with low enrollment need online classes. “There are certain classes that don’t have the number of students interested to provide teachers,” Meyers said.

Vestaburg High School has between 219 to 245 students. Meyers said it can’t offer some classes, such as French.

The high school uses Global Student Network, which is based in Ohio and provides online classes from second grade to high school. The network provides core classes and allows schools to use its teachers, policies and procedures. GSN trains teachers on curriculum and procedures. Prices are $625 per student, which covers 365 days of unlimited courses, and $225 per course for up to two courses only.

Vashaw said that online classes teach students to be more responsible, better organized and better with time management. “You can’t procrastinate with getting your work done,” he said.

Doug Pratt, director of communication at the Michigan Education Association, said the decision for schools to provide online classes shouldn’t be based on financial reasons but on what is better for education.

“It has to be the right scenario and be supervised by teachers,” Pratt said.

He said online classes could help teen parents stay in school. Teen pregnancies are a huge problem in communities, driving up high school dropout rates

Last year, more than a million students in Michigan took an online class in college, and providing online classes for high school students will help them better prepare for that, Vashaw said.

The U-M connection

Davenport University announced last week that University of Michigan Athletic Director David Brandon will be the speaker at the private institution’s May 2 commencement ceremony at the Van Andel Arena.

Brandon, former chairman and CEO of Ann Arbor-based pizza purveyor Domino’s Pizza, will receive an honorary degree in recognition of “accomplishments in business, professional excellence, personal and moral integrity and contributions to the business community across the state of Michigan,” according to a written statement from Davenport.

With its main W.A. Lettinga Campus located in Caledonia Township, Davenport has 14 locations throughout Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. The career-oriented university specializes in business, technology and health professions.

Brandon joined Domino’s as CEO in 1999, after founder Thomas Monaghan sold the company to Bain Capital. This year, he became athletic director at his alma mater, where he played football for legendary coach Bo Schembechler. He was a U-M regent from 1999 to 2006.

He’ll share the podium with DU President Richard J. Pappas, also a U-M graduate. More than 1,000 people are expected to be awarded master’s, bachelor’s, and associate degrees or diplomas.

Where’s Wixom?

You can’t blame somebody at a high-powered PR agency in Washington for not knowing what’s where in the Mitten. (You know, the Lower Peninsula.)

“Michigan is becoming a manufacturing powerhouse for the wind energy industry,” according to the American Wind Energy Association in Washington, D.C.

The association just released its U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report for 2009, which notes that wind energy manufacturing “continues to grow albeit at a slower rate than 2008.”

AWEA’s public relations firm promoted the report to the state’s media, including the Business Journal. The report includes a map of Michigan indicating approximate locations of factories supposedly already producing something for the wind turbine industry, or about to. It indicates there is at least one plant already at work in Muskegon, Kent and Ottawa counties, and another production facility that will be starting up in Muskegon County.

The Business Journal asked for the specific names of the West Michigan companies.

“Here they are,” said AWEA’s PR representative in a prompt e-mail reply: “Affordable Green Energy — Essexville, MI (small turbines); Bay Composites — Essexville, MI (components); Energetx Composites —Holland, MI (blades and housings); Johnson System Inc. — Marshall, MI (components); Three M Tool — Wixom, MI (castings).”

Well, OK, they get one point for Energetx.

Perhaps a better of idea of who’s doing what in wind turbine manufacturing in this neck of the woods is a list compiled by The Right Place, which it published in a brochure. The West Michigan Wind Manufacturers Network includes companies already doing something related to wind turbines or trying to get into that industry. The companies on the list include Cascade Engineering, Gill Industries, Kerkstra Precast, Paragon Die & Engineering, W. Soule, Williams Form, Betz Industries, Genzink Steel, Shape Corp., Carter Products, Energetx Composites, Lach Diamond, Burke E. Porter, MBtech Autodie and L3 Communications.

Then there are the West Michigan companies that aren’t even on the radar, but are quietly involved in commercial wind turbine components production. One  is GMI Composites in Muskegon, making parts for large turbine blades assembled in the U.S.

Some of the AWEA stats in the latest report indicate that Michigan is lagging when it comes to its involvement in the wind energy industry. The state is rated 17th in its potential to generate electricity from wind. However, of the 37 states that had any commercial wind energy generation by the end of 2009, 24 were producing more than Michigan. Michigan had 143 megawatts of installed wind power; Texas leads the pack with 2,292, and even Indiana was ahead of Michigan, with 905.

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