West Bloomfield School District launches online only option

‘We don’t want you to home-school, and we don’t want you to seek another virtual option’

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published July 13, 2020


A new era of education is set to begin for some West Bloomfield School District students Aug. 26.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the district devised a plan that allows students to receive a 100% online education.

Lakers Online is open to K-12 students within the district, as well as students across Oakland County via the district’s Schools of Choice program. It was approved via a 7-0 vote at a board meeting June 22.

The online courses will be taught by WBSD teachers.

High school students need to take seven courses during the school year to earn credits, with seniors earning a diploma upon graduation. The daily schedule for elementary and middle school students can be viewed at wbsd.org/lakersonline.

“Our survey data showed 28.9% of our families were interested in keeping their kids home and learning remotely,” said Deanna Barash, who is the assistant superintendent of teaching and learning for the district. “So, we wanted to make sure that we had something that would meet their needs. There’s a lot (of) competition in the world of education, and we didn’t want them to have to shop to find something that would work for their families; that’s why we developed Lakers Online.”

Families will receive a Chromebook and have Wi-Fi access. Supplemental materials such as books and whiteboard markers will also be available.

“It’ll be just like attending a West Bloomfield school, except you won’t walk into a bricks-and-mortar building,” Barash said.

According to Barash, there is no cost for taking Lakers Online courses.

Barash anticipates that 90 to 120 minutes per day will be spent on live instruction.

 Aside from students being able to do their work during times that best suit them, she considers safety to be one of the primary advantages of Lakers Online.

“We wanted to make sure that families didn’t say, ‘Well, I am not comfortable sending my kids back into school and into a classroom until there’s a vaccine,’” Barash said. “We wanted to say if you’re (going to) have to be home and you feel most comfortable keeping your kids home, we don’t want you to home school, and we don’t want you to seek another virtual option; we want you to stay in West Bloomfield.”

Courses can be viewed in the morning, afternoon or evening.

Barash said it will be “what you need, when you need it, (and) how you choose to interact.”

“What I firmly believe about learning is, particularly high school kids, learn and engage much better in the evening,” Barash said. “And so our 7 a.m. start time at the high school does not work for a lot of kids. That’s not their natural sleep rhythms.”

According to Barash, students don’t have to be present for live instruction, as that aspect of Lakers Online can also be viewed at their convenience.

“In my mind, the way I would learn would be to record that lecture, those notes or that whatever, and then I could go back and watch it at my pace and as many times as I want, and so forth,” Barash said. “What I would find more value in is being able to interact with the teacher after I’ve watched it and I have questions.”

Kim Abel, who is the lead mentor in the district and the president of the West Bloomfield Education Association, expects many students to thrive with online learning.

“They got a little dose from March to June, and I think those students will do well,” Abel said. “There’s never a one size fits all, so it’s nice to be able to have different options for students to work and be successful at. I think that many will be successful at the online model we have.”

As is the case with decisions about whether or not to home-school, a lack of social interaction is among the concerns some parents have when it comes to online learning.

“We know that’s a big concern,” Barash said. “I have a coach who works with social-emotional learning and has been part of my team the last couple years. We also added in the spring, prior to COVID, actually, a school mental health specialist. And so her job, along with my sort of practice coach, will be to develop social-emotional lessons. … We don’t want kids to be isolated any more than they need to be. So, we need to make sure we provide opportunities for them to see their teachers and to see their peers, even if it’s virtually.”

Despite being launched in response to COVID-19, Barash considers the value offered by Lakers Online to be more than just a temporary solution to the pandemic.

“I don’t see this as a stop-gap,” Barash said. “COVID was just the catalyst to revolutionize education. … School is probably one of the most traditional structures that still exists in our world. … COVID really forced that issue. I think we all realize as educators we have a real opportunity here to re-think education, rethink how we deliver instruction, and to make sure we can meet the needs of what kids need to do at this point in time, rather than have to do.”

For more information, call (248) 865-6479 or visit wbsd.org/lakersonline.

Emails can be sent to LakersOnline@wbsd.org.

The student commitment deadline is July 27.

Call Staff Writer Mark Vest at (586) 279-1112.