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Recently, in Ferndale Public Schools, we have changed the functioning of our online alternative high school.

It would be disingenuous of me to say that I am a champion of online education. I am a champion for all kids having the opportunity to learn. Online education is one tool in the toolbox of educating students.

We all benefit from the educational value of the Internet. Why not students?

There are students who are homebound for medical reasons and without online classes they would not be receiving an education. There are teenage mothers who want to get a high school education, raise their child, and be able to provide a future for their child.

A traditional high school does not always allow the flexibility to earn a diploma while trying to be a mother. What about students in the Upper Peninsula that now have access to online Advanced Placement classes. This allows students to have access to the same curriculum no matter how large or small the school.

I have worked with students who are training for the Olympics or other upper level sports that are on the road too often for traditional high school. Online education can take on many forms, yet it should come back to the quality of education a student receives.

The piece of online education that worries me is when we take the teacher out of the equation. No matter how good the online platform, there still is a need for a teacher to mentor and teach a student. This does not need to be face to face. It can be through facetime, skype, email, social media, or many other forms of communication. This changes the role of the teacher from purveyor of knowledge to student mentor and coach.

It is a conversation about how to help the student not a lecture to the student.

Online teachers keep track of student progress and keep in constant communication to help their students. A teacher can see exactly when the student was working, what they were working on, and how successful they were. A regular classroom teacher does not have this type of ongoing daily information.

As education moves forward, I believe we will see more flipped classrooms, blended learning, and online classes. The one constant will be the need for a highly skilled teacher to to work with students through what ever medium is used.

Blake J. Prewitt is superintendent of Ferndale Public Schools.

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