Imagine for a moment that you’re a middle school teacher. It’s a new school year with new students. Amid the teens in your class is one student who’s so shy, and has so much anxiety, that her mother reaches out to tell you personally:
“She never raises her hand, and rarely asks for help. You’ll probably never hear from her.”
In response, you do your best to engage the student and find ways to make her feel comfortable.
How long do you think it would take for such a quiet, apprehensive middle schooler to open up? Six months? A full year?
How about a few weeks?
That’s precisely what happened at My Virtual Academy (MVA). This Michigan-based online school has expanded the traditional classroom to provide more flexible learning methods — ones that inspire all kinds of students to meet their full learning potential.
In many ways, it’s a classroom without limits. And it’s making a tremendous difference in the lives of thousands of middle and high schoolers.
What’s different about My Virtual Academy? Let’s take a look.
Expanding the Definition of “Classroom”
When MVA first decided to expand its tutoring business into a full-fledged online school, the expectation was to fill a need for advanced students — high schoolers looking to finish early or take college courses, for example, or athletes spending time away from school to compete and be coached.
But then staff started hearing from parents and school districts with a much different need.
What would happen, they wondered, if students who were being bullied or who exhibited high levels of anxiety were given the chance to learn in a safe digital environment?
What if youth who had fallen behind but were now ready to get back on track had a way to complete classwork on their own terms and time?
And so the staff at MVA set off to revisit its mission and rebuild a virtual classroom where students could achieve anything.
Today, My Virtual Academy offers a rigorous, interactive curriculum for a wide range of students with different needs, whether they’re facing emotional distress or are in need of an accelerated program. It’s a place where sixth- to twelfth-graders can come to experience personal growth, increase self-esteem and prepare for the challenges of colleges and careers.
“There’s a lot of one-on-one time you won’t get in the classroom, and instant feedback from teachers — even on Saturday and Sunday,” explained Kristen Hannah, who teaches sixth- through ninth-graders.
The self-paced curriculum mixed with ongoing online support, one-on-one teacher phone calls and individual tutoring
"It’s great because you really get to learn their personalities when you work with them,” said Hannah.
And then there’s the magic of MVA’s weekly live sessions.
Inspiring Students with Live Sessions
Every week, some 40 to 50 students come together in a live virtual classroom to connect, chat and ask questions. These weekly sessions have become a pivotal part of the learning process at the online school.
Hannah and her team use the time to engage with students in meaningful ways. They’ve done virtual field trips and talent
Because it’s such a highly collaborative process, students have become even more communicative, involved and engaged as a result of these live activities. And because the sessions are held in AirClass, instructors are able to engage students through an array of features — many of which wouldn’t be available in the traditional classroom.
For example, students who may have missed a live session can use the AirClass Replay to relive the event as if they were there the first time around. Live chat, document shares and more are all provided in their original order.
“When we recorded live sessions in a previous platform and played it back, it was just a tiny screen in the bottom of the platform,” said Hannah. “Students couldn’t see videos, presentations or teachers. If they needed to reference something, it was very difficult to use.”
What’s more, students who might be afraid to raise hands in a traditional classroom aren’t shy in AirClass. They answer questions, share thoughts and regularly chime in on discussions.
“Because there’s a physical separation, the virtual classroom gives students a little more confidence to put themselves out there and participate in ways they wouldn’t normally interact in a traditional classroom session,” explained middle school teacher Kurt Schmidt.
It’s not at all uncommon for the teachers at My Virtual Academy to hear a parent thank them again … and again … and again. Many say it was exactly what their children needed to thrive. Some even call it a miracle.
The online middle and high school program has been so successful that MVA is now making plans to offer self-paced curriculums and live sessions to students as early as kindergarten.
Feeling inspired? Looking for more ways to inspire students and increase collaboration online? Check out our post on Accommodating Different Learning Styles in a Virtual Classroom.