SOUTH HAVEN — When Kevin Schooley took over as superintendent of South Haven Public Schools earlier this year, he thought there must be a better way to reach students who are turned off with the traditional high school setting.
True, the high school offers online courses at its Alliance Campus at Lake Michigan College’s South Haven campus, but Schooley didn’t think the program measured up in terms of encouraging non-traditional students to obtain their diploma.
“It was not providing the results we expected,” he said.
So now the district is trying a different approach to encourage more interaction between students and instructors, yet one that gives students the freedom to do their online coursework at home or at LMC.
The program is called Widening Achievement for Youth, or WAY, for short. It was founded in 2009 in Belleville, Mich., as a non-profit agency that provides a personalized learning experience for students. Seven school districts in Michigan offer the program, including Niles and Watervliet, in Berrien County.
Simply put, WAY provides an alternative path to graduation through a project-based, interactive, online educational environment, according to Schooley, who implemented the program in 2011 at Watervliet Public Schools, where he served as superintendent at the time before coming to South Haven.
“I’ve seen the WAY program firsthand and have watched students that are not buying into the traditional high school experience re-engage in their education with the project-based model,” he said. “Typical high school isn’t for everyone and to be able to meet the needs of the kids looking for something different and get them on track to graduation and future success is extremely rewarding.”
Since WAY was offered at Watervliet in 2011, 100 students have gone on to earn their diplomas.
“WAY graduates go to LMC, Western Michigan University, they go to Michigan State University, they enter the workforce,” Schooley said.
But if students think the program will be easier than traditional high school courses, they need to think again, Schooley stressed.
“It’s not an easier way, but a different way. It’s structured in such a way that you begin to own your education.”
Unlike South Haven Alliance Campus’s Career Academy, where instruction is primarily online based, students who take part in the new WAY program will be able to interact with four instructors from South Haven, who will be at the classroom/lab at LMC. Students can also utilize the help of online instructors as well, when they aren’t in the lab. A director will soon be hired to lead the program so that it can begin with the 2019-20 school year in the fall.
“The kids there (at the Alliance Campus) deserve a quality education,” Schooley said. “Face-to-face interaction is a huge part of this program.”
The WAY program works in the following way: Students will take part in project-based courses that align to state education standards. As students successfully complete their projects they will earn credits toward their diploma. After mastering projects that they are signed when starting the WAY program, students will be given the opportunity to develop and complete their own projects.
The intent of the personalized projects is to allow students to blend their learning with their interests, according to the WAY program website.
While the WAY program will now be the primary program targeted for non-traditional students, the Career Academy curriculum will still be available to older students who have enrolled in it and wish to continue finishing their graduation requirements.
The district plans to limit enrollment in the WAY program to 50 South Haven High School students and school of choice students. High school students who are interested in the program need to fill out an online application that is on the school district’s website. They then will go through an interview process for acceptance into the program. More information about WAY is also on the district website.