Washtenaw County alliance receives funding to create Ypsi-based virtual middle school

The Washtenaw Alliance for Virtual Education (WAVE) recently received funding to open a new Ypsilanti-based virtual middle school program that will be available to students across Washtenaw County starting in autumn of 2023.
WAVE is a free, alternative public high school program for students in Washtenaw County, made available as part of local public school districts' participation in the Washtenaw Educational Options Consortium (WEOC). WAVE is one of WEOC's anchor programs. The other two are Washtenaw International High School and Middle Academy (WIHI) in Ypsilanti Township and the Early College Alliance at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti.

Monique Uzelac, program director for WEOC, says parents have reached out asking about alternate placement for middle schoolers with various needs throughout the 12 years WAVE has been operating.

"That might be suspension or expulsion issues, support for mental health, some level of accelerated learning, or a bullying situation," Uzelac says. "There's not a single story for students who come to WAVE."

A grant from the NewSchools Venture Fund, a national nonprofit organization, will allow WAVE to form a planning team that will explore and develop alternative middle school programming. The NewSchools Venture Fund invests in teams of educators with a focus on reimagining public school education, developing diverse educational leadership, promoting racial equity, and developing innovative curriculum.

Uzelac says that WAVE anticipates offering 25 slots for eighth-graders when the virtual middle school option opens next fall. Seventh and sixth grades will be added in future years based on need, she says.

Sarah Giddings, a WAVE teacher and advisor to the planning team, says she's been working with others at WAVE to come up with a successful plan for the launch of the eighth-grade program.

"I've been working with Monique on how we make this into a middle school that is different than what's already offered and provide the level of support students and families expect from WAVE," Giddings says. 

She says that the middle school program will have to be slightly different from WAVE's high school program since middle schoolers typically have different needs.

"They need different levels of support emotionally, as well as academically, that aren't treating them like they're miniaturized high schoolers," Giddings says. "We're looking for things that target what is successful for that 11-to-14 age group."

More information about WAVE is available at www.wavewashtenaw.org.   
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.
Photo courtesy of WAVE.