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This summer over 1,300 students from every county in Missouri have become students in a tiny school district in rural Jefferson County which normally only serves 800 K-12 students during the regular school year.
But local leaders are not scrambling to find more classrooms, build new buildings or hire more teachers to handle the sudden influx of students.
Because all of those new students are enrolled through the district’s innovative Missouri Online Summer Institute (MOSI) -a free virtual summer school program offering more than 100 courses for original credit or credit recovery.
Students in the program can take up to two full credits of course work ranging from the basics (math, ELA, science, social studies) to foreign languages, AP courses, and arts to a variety of Career and Technical Education courses.
Students take the courses from the comfort of their own home (or on a sunny beach while on vacation) and the classes cost their parents and home school districts nothing.
The MOSI program started five years ago, with an initial group of 300 students, after the Grandview R-2 school district had seen success with offering virtual classes for its own students during the school year.
“We started getting requests from other schools in our area for kids to have access to our virtual curriculum,” said MOSI Director Dr. Michael Brown, noting that under Missouri law students can attend any district in the state during the summer. “They basically become Grandview students during the summer.”
Under the law, the state pays the district providing services for each student enrolled in the program, and students are not allowed to be enrolled in summer programs in two different districts during the summer.
“It allows us to service kids all over the state in stuff they could not get,” said Brown. “And it allows us to employ our teachers during the summer and allows the district to make some money.
“We draw students from every county in the state,” he added. “We draw from rural schools because many of them do not have summer schools. We draw from the suburban districts because they have kids who want to take a course that is required by the state but it gets in the way of what they want to be doing during their regular school year. We meet the needs of kids who need credit recovery, kids who just want to take something in the summer, and kids who want to plan for their senior year because they want to take such and such and they can take a required course through us so they have the freedom to do that.”
Students fill out an online enrollment form between March 20 and July 3 and, after approval, have access to the coursework from May 22 until July 21.
Students may complete the coursework at their own pace earning a final letter grade for their course which will be emailed and faxed to their home district approximately two weeks after the end of the course.
The classes are offered through the Blackboard platform through a partnership with K12, a national provider of online education.
Students have access to a wide range of support while taking the classes to help ensure their success.
“Every couple of weeks we will email the students to let them know where they stand and if they need help,” said Head Library Media Specialist Elaine Schlette who helps oversee the summer program. “We tell them to call us if they have any issues because we are here Monday through Thursday until 2 p.m. We also check emails all the way up until we go to bed at 10 at night. They have access to the teacher’s emails so they can contact them directly. They have access to Peak Support, the help desk if they have a technical issue.
“We also have a lot of teachers who will call them from their cell phones to talk students through stuff and help them out,” she added. “This year we also have in place advisors from K12 who are contacting the parents and students and providing them with an extra layer of support.
“We can track the time they are online and see how many times they log in and how long they are on for,” said Schlette. “We can look at the progress and see what they are earning grade-wise and how far they are in the course. I can see if they are struggling or not.”
While only in its fifth year, MOSI is quickly becoming a resource that students throughout the state depend on.
“Schools that you would not think of look at this as an opportunity for students,” said Grandview R-2 Superintendant Matthew Zoph. “Around the middle of February, we start getting calls from counselors from all across the state asking if we are doing the summer school again.
“The counselors want their students to succeed,” he added. “It is not about who is giving the credits, it is about the opportunities for the kids.”