By Tom Tolen /

The Brighton Virtual Academy is just about ready to get off and running, starting with the first day of school on Sept. 8th.

The academy is being launched this year as a response to the coronavirus pandemic that has plagued the nation since mid-March. Some 172,000 American men, women and children have died from the virulent virus, over 6,600 of them Michigan residents, as of Aug. 18th. Since many parents don’t want their children to go to school this fall due to the contagious nature of the virus, many school districts have started their own online school to give students a choice of in-school or online, and also so the district won’t lose any per-pupil state aid to other districts which have online programs.

Maria Gistinger, the former Brighton Area Schools assistant superintendent for business and finance, is spearheading the effort to get the virtual academy underway. The deadline for applications was last Friday, Aug. 14th, and Gistinger says there are 839 students enrolled in grades Junior Kindergarten through 8th.

Gistinger has not yet been able to get the figures for high school, since those students enrolled through the Michigan Virtual Academy. Enrollment figures for the BVA are: 26 students in junior kindergarten, 77 in kindergarten, 119 in first grade, 81 in second grade, 87 in third, 89 in fourth, 84 in fifth, 96 in sixth grade, 78 in 7th, and 102 in 8th grade. If each of the 9th-through-twelfth grades has about 100 students, then the overall enrollment for the BVA will be about 1,200 students.

Gistinger says the online classes will be taught by certified Brighton teachers. The district may end up having to hire more teachers because the bulk of Brighton Area Schools teachers will be busy with their regular classes. School is set to reopen with a hybrid program of in-classroom sessions on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, beginning on Sept. 8th. Wednesdays have been reserved for online learning.

For students in the Brighton Virtual Academy who don’t have their own home computers, Chromebooks will be provided by the district. Gistinger says about 250 students who have signed up for the BVA have requested a Chromebook. The program has been developed by Florida Virtual School, which has an award-winning curriculum which interim Brighton Superintendent Laura Surrey has called very rigorous. It was chosen by a committee led by Surrey after reviewing many online school programs across the nation. Gistinger assures that the courses will have not only Brighton teachers but Brighton content, as well. The Brighton Academy will also be aligned with the likewise rigorous Michigan Virtual Academy program.

Though Florida Virtual will be used in JK-through-eighth grade classes, the high school program will be through the Michigan Virtual Academy. Brighton teachers will grade the homework and tests at all grade levels, and the grades, student’s paperwork and teacher’s critiques will be loaded into an electronic grade book. Whether the BVA will get a full-time director has not been determined; however, Gistinger has said she would not be available for the position due to her full-time position as a professor of accounting at Walsh College in suburban Detroit.