KIOWA COUNTY — The 21st Century Learning Academy in the Kiowa County school system has graduated more than 50 students per year over the past 10 years. These students have been high school seniors or adults, but they are 50 people who might otherwise never had the chance to earn a diploma.

Student enrollment tends to change from day to day because of open enrollment allowed throughout the school year, Brian Deterding, USD 422 principal said that students enroll, drop, and graduate on a fairly regular basis.

Students in the virtual school fall into 1 of 3 categories. Charter students are sixth- to 12th-grade students that are younger than 19. Learning Academy students are adult students. Credit recovery students are students who attend another school, but they are taking a class in order to try to regain a credit for failing a class in their own school.

As of Nov. 12, there were 131 charter students, 72 Learning Academy students and 13 credit recovery students enrolled through the Kiowa County school system with the 21st Century Learning Academy.

The 21st Century Learning Academy is a virtual school available to students statewide. Each student is paired up with a mentor who helps keep them on track and answer questions that arise. The school accepts students from all over the state of Kansas. For the majority of the courses, either a USD 422 Kiowa County or USD 474 Haviland teacher is the teacher of record. They are responsible for grading work and assigning grades.

The majority of the students who enroll have not been successful in a traditional brick and mortar building. They may have attendance or behavior issues that have kept them from being in school on a regular basis. They may have health issues that have not allowed them to return to a traditional school. The school also enrolls students who struggle with social anxiety and may not be able to work in a regular school setting, as well also the occasional student who simply wants to finish high school quicker and move on to the next chapter in their life.

“Our graduation ceremony is always my favorite time of the year,” Deterding said. “The feeling at this ceremony is so different than a normal high school graduation. The graduates are more excited about receiving their diploma, and the family members in attendance are so proud of their accomplishments.”