According to the National Education Policy Center, in 2011 there were approximately 320 virtual schools in the United States.
Add Paula Watkins’ Cyber Education Center (CEC) to that list. She launched it in 2012, making her the first African American virtual school founder.
“I wanted young people to actually matriculate and graduate from high school in order to transform their lives positively. I would see so many young people, for various reasons and circumstances sometimes beyond their control, who were dropping out of school because they needed innovative and flexible learning opportunities and environments,” Watkins told TNJ.com in an exclusive interview.
Watkins, who previously worked as CEO of Vision Education Center, an Education Management Organization for several charter schools in the Michigan area, says the response thus far has been phenomenal.
“We get students in a variety of ways. Some young people have selected us on their own because they’re heard about us; parents bring them to us; social service agencies and case workers send them to us because people are in foster care or transitional housing and homeless situations; and for some students, traditional brick and mortar schools haven’t worked because perhaps they’ve been bullied and have anxiety about re-entering a traditional building,” explains Watkins who received a PhD from Oakland University.
She continues, “We also have gifted and talented young people who are professionals in their own right in the performance and athletic industries and because they are pursing those opportunities, they need an innovative learning opportunity.”
Funded by the State of Michigan in conjunction with the Redford, MI school district, CEC offers instruction for three programs: high school only, middle school only and statewide k-12 grades. And according to Watkins, they don’t stop there.
“At this juncture, we have had four graduating classes and we’ve known people who go straight into traditional colleges, universities and community colleges. But we also have students who go into the AmeriCore program with the Public Allies Program as well as the military. Other graduates move away to California and other states, leaving Michigan to pursue educational opportunities. It has been very rewarding to see them continue their life post-secondary,” shares Watkins.
CEC is a public institution and the program is at no cost to the students. Students are also given free laptop computers; free internet access to take classes; and access to certified, highly qualified professional instructors and tutors.