Niles Community Schools is launching a new program this fall to offer non-traditional students another way to earn a high school diploma.
The WAY (Widening Advancements for Youth) Niles Program will be geared toward Berrien and Cass county students who have become “disengaged,” said Rich Klemm, director of non-traditional education.
Klemm outlined WAY on Monday for school board members, who unanimously approved the program.
Sixty students will be chosen to receive for their homes '€” at no cost '€” new iMac computers and computer access, what Klemm describes as a “virtual project-based environment.”
“It’s not a student just taking an online course,” Klemm said.
Students will be able to receive all the necessary credits toward a diploma, but the method in which they will earn them is different than in a traditional classroom setting. Although it will be open to all students '€”Â traditional and non-traditional '€”Â it targets those who are not enrolled in a school; those who are behind in credits; students who do not want a traditional learning environment; and home-schooled students.
If a participating student qualifies, he or she may be permitted to keep the computer, which will allow the student to track his or her progress. If the student drops out of WAY, he or she must return the computer, which will be passed on to another student.
The project-based learning concept is similar to that of the Niles New Tech Entrepreneurial Academy, which opens this fall at Niles High School; however, all classes are online and no books are used.
The WAY online teachers, called “mentors,” are available 24 hours a day, every day of the year. A mentor employed by WAY awards credits and approves projects. Students also have the option to meet with a mentor at an on-campus lab available twice a week.
Klemm said he has been conducting research and on-site visits to WAY programs in Michigan in the past year. He gave one example of a project designed that detailed the plans and promotion of a virtual skate park '€”Â from determining the ramp velocity to learning how to seek permit approval from a council.
Klemm said he has received 108 student referrals so far from various community resources. He plans to locate potential students via marketing methods like billboards, on-screen advertisements at Wonderland Theatre and word-of-mouth.
The first year of WAY will be supported by $6,846 in state funding in addition to a Michigan Department of Education grant, Klemm said. Those sources are expected to continue to support the program.
An application and demonstration event will be scheduled for later this summer, Klemm said.
For more information about the WAY Niles Program, visit www.nilesschools.org or contact Rich Klemm at 684-9554 or firstname.lastname@example.org or John Fonash, academic adviser, at email@example.com.Published 11:11pm Tuesday, July 12, 2011