MICHIGAN CITY – Michigan City Area Schools has officially opened the virtual doors of its new online-based learning program. 

Associate Superintendent Wendel McCollum and instructor Mary Rapier introduced the recently launched Michigan City Virtual Academy to members of the MCAS Board at Tuesday night's meeting.

The internet-powered education program – available for teenagers living in Michigan City, La Porte County and beyond – is now accepting students in grades ninth through 12.

The virtual academy program allows high schoolers to earn credits via the online-based Plato learning environment, completing coursework at the place and time of their choosing. At the same time, they can receive the same one-on-one support the faculty offers to students attending traditional high school.

Virtual academy instructors are required to meet with students face-to-face – be it online or in person – at least five minutes every week. The meetings give students a chance to seek help with academic problems they may be facing or to set educational goals with the instructor, Rapier said.

"There is that one-on-one caring, that understanding that you are not alone in a room with a computer," she said. 

MCAS counselors will also be able to support virtual academy students who are facing struggles beyond the typical academic problems, Rapier added. The program also requires parents to participate in a virtual meeting with the program staff twice a month.

Virtual academy students can also participate in any MCHS extracurricular events, including prom, graduation, clubs and sports, as long as they provide their own transportation. They will also have the opportunity to take career and technical education classes at the A.K. Smith Career Center.

The self-paced style of the virtual academy program makes it an excellent choice for a variety of different students, Rapier said. These include teens who want to graduate high school early, or students who are dealing with medical issues that prevent them from attending class.

"This provides us an opportunity to bring these students into a collaborative environment online," Rapier said. 

The program may also allow the district to re-enroll students who had previously dropped out of MCHS to attend another virtual academy, McCollum said. The district intends to reach out to these students to ask them to consider enrolling in the MCVA program.

For this year's pilot effort, the district is limiting enrollment to 100 students, a figure Rapier believes the program can reach. Next year, she would like to double that figure, and possibly expand to students in grades six through eight by its third year.

The launch of the MCVA follows discussions the district had this past summer with Edmentum, which provides the Plato software the district already uses for its credit recovery and alternative education programs. MCAS administrators had considered paying to use the company's EdOptions program, which would have provided software and staffing for a virtual learning program. 

They instead decided to come up with an in-house solution using MCAS instructors, McCollum told the board Tuesday. Administrators were able to open the virtual academy without any increased investment, as the district already has a contract with Edmentum to use the Plato courseware, Rapier said.

For now, Rapier serves as the program's sole instructor. Administrators plan to assign a teaching assistant once the virtual academy's enrollment reaches 25, and will add instructors for every 50 students who participate, McCollum said.

One of the unique things about the academy is that it is open to not only students living in the MCAS district, but to pupils throughout Indiana. Those who wish to enroll from outside the state will be required to pay a tuition fee.

Those interested in more about the MCVA can call Rapier at 219-873-2029, ext. 7515, or visit mcas.k12.in.us/virtualacademy.

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