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Online Learn Programs Will Unite as KPS Virtual

Taariq ThomasKalamazoo Public Schools’ virtual programs for kindergarten through 12th grade will unite under one title next year: KPS Virtual. 

With the new combined name for the Kalamazoo Virtual Learning Program (KVLP) and the KRESA Focused Learning Experience (KFLEx) comes a new curriculum designed by KPS staff that is more fully aligned with the district’s in-person classes to help students move seamlessly between the two programs. 

Enrollment for KPS Virtual is taking place through the Letter of Intent process. KPS Virtual is open to any student, but those outside of Kalamazoo would need to obtain a release from their home district before enrolling in KPS.

“Canned curricula have a place, but we needed to be able to build on them,” said Kimberly Kirshman, the administrator of KPS virtual programs. “The biggest plus to this change is that we are able to offer synchronous sessions for all of our students. We offer actual instruction and in-person support. We’re the only virtual program that offers that.” 

Currently, KPS has over 300 students participating in virtual learning, with slightly more sec - ondary students than elemen - tary students. Students meet in virtual classrooms where teach - ers can instruct them through major concepts. Outside of the online classrooms students work through self-paced learning. 

Since moving the program to the new space in the Oak - wood Center, the KPS virtual learning programs have been able to offer students a place for in-person support. Students can come to the building and work in an empty classroom or in the library. Students also have access to teachers when they are not teaching remotely. There is a twice weekly, in-person learning lab for elementary students. Kirshman praised the teachers in the remote learning program for go - ing above and beyond with out - reach efforts to ensure students feel connected to teachers and to each other. 

KPS virtual programs provide flexibility to meet the needs of students. 

“We enjoy the flexibility this program has offered us — we both work full-time, and therefore it’s tough to do all of the work during the ‘school day,’ especially with a kindergartener who can’t read any of the assignments herself. Daily meetings with the teachers are very much appreciated, as our teachers have been able to help drill some of the concepts,” one family said in its evaluation of the program. 

Senior Robert Wheeler said virtual school has allowed him the time to have a full-time job since he was a sophomore, which “allowed me to gain experience in my career field prior to col - lege.” He plans to attend WMU in the fall to study business. 

Freshman Madison Lange says the virtual option has worked well with her Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Cen - ter schedule. “The program is really great for flexibility, espe - cially during the first portion of the year when you’re trying to get used to time management. I personally plan to stick with the program next year.” 

The staff also tries to ensure students remain engaged with their home schools. For example, elementary students have worked with the after-school robotics program and secondary students participate in sports and extra - curricular activities with students from their home schools. 

Kirshman said moving into the Oakwood Center, which is also home to Kalamazoo Innova - tive Learning Program and the district’s new Social Emotional Learning Center has resulted in great synergy. The SEL staff has created a welcoming environ - ment in the building. The virtual staff has appreciated being able to tap the expertise of the SEL staff to address the social emo - tional needs of the virtual students. 

Working in the space has helped the virtual program’s eight secondary, five elementary and one special education teachers too. Teachers are paired by con - tent areas so they can more eas - ily collaborate with each other. Another plus has been that the teachers in the virtual program have been able to offer support and expertise to the KILP staff. 

“We’re hoping for even more cross-collaboration next year,” she said.