We regularly expound the importance of shopping local because everyone—residents, business owners and municipalities—benefits from keeping our dollars local. The message is essentially the same when it comes to education too.

We’re only about one month away from the 2020-2021 school year starting but, due to coronavirus-related health concerns, many families will opt to keep their children out of the classroom, at least for now. There are lots of resources for homeschooling these days, including many online options, but the reality is that families don’t have to look far for good distance learning programs thanks to our local school districts.

Nearly all of our area schools have had some kind of online learning opportunities in place long before the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of that was focused at the higher grades, particularly at the high school level, but educators and district leaders have spent this summer working to expand that programming to lower grades. Some of those preparations have been in anticipation that the entire student body might have to learn from home in the event of new school closures later in 2020 and some has been directed toward full-time online learning plans. In Almont, the district has taken steps to create a blended learning program that would include face-to-face and online instruction for students. Utilizing a new program, Supt. Dr. Bill Kalmar said in a June letter to parents, they’ll be able to customize lessons for individual students. Last week Imlay City Schools released preliminary information about the Distance/Virtual full-time learning option. Classes would be led by an Imlay City School teacher or teachers and customized to match the appropriate grade level. Families will have the option of enrolling per marking period, semester or yearlong. Other districts are still formulating their plans for what learning opportunities they’ll offer in the new school year.

By choosing to stay with a local school district, distance learning families can realize certain advantages like access to local services and a seamless transition to the classroom if that option becomes feasible in the near future. It also means that per pupil funding will continue to flow to our local districts and ideally minimize the severe cuts in state education dollars that seems inevitable. Having strong school districts will be key to our region’s recovery and one of the best ways our community can keep them strong is by utilizing the services they offer.