KENT COUNTY, Mich — Michigan parents and students were thrust into the world of virtual learning as schools shut down due to COVID-19 last year; but online learning isn't a new concept.
Virtual instititutions, like Michigan Connections Academy, have been around for more than a decade.
"We've had many students come to us and find success in schooling, perhaps, where they didn't find as great of success as previous," explained Bryan Klochack, Michigan Connections Academy Superintendent. "We really offer a full range of services, in our kindergarten through 12th grade school district."
As concerns about safety and mask mandates continue, more families are considering alternatives to traditional in-person learning.
"Interest in our in our program has been high," Klochack told FOX 17 News. "The curriculum is available to the students 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They have the ability to call all the instructors for help to ask for questions, they can email them, they have the ability to schedule meetings with them at any time. So it's from a flexibility standpoint, it's very flexible."
The ability to set his own pace appealed to former Forest Hills student Ethan Mathias.
The 12-year-old is pursuing an acting career on the road while beginning his second year of learning online.
"I think it's a lot easier to learn in online school, because in normal school, to focus, I would have to hum or like tap or something. And it would like get in the way with other classmates. But here I can, like, do whatever. Or like, if I'm getting, like really stressed out on something I can like, walk away for 10 minutes, like get a snack... collect myself again, and then come back to it."
Ethan's mother Lisa says another big bonus is protecting her son from social pressures that may be found in traditional schools.
"Just for him, the virtual's been so much better," she said. "You know, there's no bullying... it's kind of a nice little bubble that the kids can be in and not have to worry about a lot of that social pressure and competition."
Mathias, who is entering 7th grade, plans to continue online learning through high school.
"It took some getting used to, like my first week I was like, really confused on like what to do, but then eventually I was able to like get a flow into things and it became a lot easier. So I would definitely recommend online schooling," said Mathias.
For parents who may be conflicted over whether to send their kids back to the classroom this year, Klochak said virtual learning may be a good fit.
"I think we're a viable option for those who want to do online learning as a program, and not just as a class," he explained. "It's really important to make sure that this is a good fit. Because, you know, we want kids to find success. We want this to be a team effort. And we need everybody to be on the same page."
To learn more about Michigan Connections Academy, click here.