Audrey Blaine

KHS introduced the Pioneer e-Learning Academy for the 2021-22 school year.

The familiar orange dashboard of LAUNCH has become a summer staple for many KHS students. Although LAUNCH has employed KHS teachers for class sections, KHS intends to move to an entirely internal virtual program. The Pioneer e-Learning Academy (PeLA) will be run by KHS and taught by KHS teachers. For the 2021-22 school year, KHS students were able to choose between online classes through LAUNCH or PeLA.

For years, KSD has discussed creating a Kirkwood version of LAUNCH. Jeff Townsend, assistant principal, said COVID-19 accelerated those plans. PeLA will offer health, personal finance and PE courses for the 2021-22 school year. Townsend said offering KHS graduation requirements as PeLA courses will give students the same opportunities as LAUNCH has for the past several years.

“[It’s] no different than some other programs that have offered flexibility for students in high school like CAPS, South Tech, now this online learning academy,” Townsend said. “Eventually the thought [is] that these are opportunities all year for students to take coursework. That will offer flexibility in students’ schedules.”

The science, math, social studies and English departments are still in the process of creating curricula for PeLA. Dr. Michael Havener, KHS principal and head of PeLA, said the goal is to offer all graduation requirements through PeLA within the next few years.

“We just had a year and a half of online learning,” Havener said. “We might as well take what we learned, create our own school and go from there. Other schools are doing the same thing.”

We want to make sure that we’re teaching our kids.”

— Mike Havener

Trey Rolfes, senior, was virtual for the 2020-21 school year. He said although he considered online courses, he would not enjoy doing classes virtually for another year.

“I could feasibly take all of my classes online, but I want to be back in the classroom and see my teachers in person,” Rolfes said. “Even though we had homeroom time and office hours, I wasn’t able to communicate as well with my teachers as I would have in-person.”

PeLA offers the opportunity for teachers to be more accessible to students. LAUNCH is a statewide program based in Springfield, Missouri, without guarantees that teachers will be at the same school, or even the same city. 

“There’s nothing wrong with LAUNCH,” Havener said. “LAUNCH has done a wonderful job and we give them all the credit in the world, but we want to make sure that we’re teaching our kids.”