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The Alpena Board of Education voted Monday night to accept an online education program that will be available for students if classes aren’t back in session this year, as well as for homeschooled students.

Superintendent David Westenhover told board members that now is the time to begin.

“Online learning is going to be a pretty big thing when school starts back,” Westenhover said.

He said he did some research and asked principals, as well as staff that work with homeschooled students, to look at different available online platforms.

Westenhover presented a quote from Acellus Learning Accelerator. Local teachers would still be responsible for students’ grades and incorporating the platform into curriculum.

Students who choose to home school currently are using a different program through the school, but it doesn’t offer a lot of local involvement. It’s also only available for grades 9-12.

Acellus is for grades K-12. Homeschoolers can enroll through Alpena and the school would get partial funding from the state for that enrollment, while having access to a successful program for which parents don’t have to pay, Westenhover said.

Acellus would also be available for all students should the state again require schools to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic or other disaster.

Westenhover said a survey of patrons in the district showed that about 75% of those homes have broadband internet access.

“All the courses we offer, plus more, are available through this program,” Westenhover told the board.

Board member Lynette Cantwell asked if students would be able to interact through the platform.

Westenhover said the goal is to allow interaction with teachers through Google Classroom, Google Meet and Zoom programs.

“In that situation, this would just be a resource for that teacher to help them with the standards they’re already teaching in their classrooms,” Westenhover said.

Teachers would also be able to monitor students’ progress and notify parents if students are falling being in class work as is currently done.

He went on to say that five students from Alpena transferred to another district in order to use the Acellus program.

“We’re 90% sure when school starts back, everybody won’t be on campus and our teachers are going to be having to present lessons online,” Westenhover said. Having Acellus online would give teachers that first step they need.

But he also said the district should bring teachers back to campus early for training on the system and that they be paid for that training, probably with funding through the CARES Act. Board members agreed.

The current homeschooling program the district uses won’t be necessary, Westenhover said, which will save the district about $9,000 a year. Acellus also offers more for students.

Deer/Mt. Judea and Ozark Mountain School District have been offering homeschooling for some time and Acellus is the platform they chose after trying others, Westenhover said.

The board voted to accept Westenhover’s recommendation to use the Acellus platform.

Westenhover told the Daily Times that the cost of the Acellus program is $35 per student, plus training for teachers. He estimated the total cost to be about $18,500.

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