Michael “Cade” Norton is a 2015 graduate of Great Lakes Learning Academy (GLLA), a free cyber school in Michigan. He lives with his family in Trenton. At GLLA, Cade had the freedom to use the learning styles he prefers and work at a pace that worked for him. He was able to achieve academic and personal success in ways his parents could never have imagined. Cade’s mom tells his story below.
“Cade has always been extremely smart, but starting in middle school, he began struggling academically. His MEAP test scores were above average, as were his scores on other tests and assessments. He was reading at a college freshman level, but his school work and grades didn’t show it. We tried every tactic to get his grades up and to get him to do his work.
In his ninth grade year, we figured out the problem: Cade simply didn’t fit the typical brick-and-mortar school. He learns differently. He received no help at his brick-and-mortar school. The staff there told us that he didn’t qualify for 504 or IEP because he had no actual learning disability. ‘There is nothing we can do for him,’ they said, following up with, ‘He just doesn’t care about school.’ Our son was literally failing all of his classes.
Then, Cade found a YouTube video explaining his algebra assignments in a different way—one he could understand. So, he actually did his homework, including his missing assignments. He was so excited to go back to school and turn in his work, only to learn that although the answers were correct, he would not receive credit because ‘this is not the way algebra is taught at school.’
It was breaking our hearts to see our son’s intelligence and potential remaining untapped and becoming lost. That’s when we went as a family to an information session for Great Lakes Learning Academy. We were sold immediately.
Enrolling Cade at GLLA was a positive experience. Not only did Cade excel academically, but also his self-esteem flourished. We can see it in his conversations, as he is now less shy around strangers. We even see it in his music. According to his music teacher, Cade is a ‘gifted and talented’ drummer. Also, he decided to pick up a bass guitar and learn how to play. Bottom line: he has blossomed not only as a student, but also as a person. He is now a young man with one wild sense of humor and a boatload of confidence.
GLLA’s flexibility helped him immensely. A schedule following a strict 74 minutes for each and every class doesn’t work for Cade. For some subjects, he doesn’t even need half that time, while for other subjects, he needed all of that time and then some. I think what helped him is that he could do his English, Spanish, and history class work one day and then dedicate the next day to geometry only or biology only.
I cannot say that GLLA is easier than a brick-and-mortar school or that GLLA students have less work. I actually saw more assignments here than at his previous school. Plus, it is no easy task to become a self-starter. But GLLA’s structure and approach to learning are fantastic. The staff members teach with their hearts 100% in the job. It’s refreshing to see teachers care about not only what children learn, but also how they learn—they encouraged Cade all the way.
Cade went from failing all his classes to earning honor roll grades. He has blossomed so much that while in tenth grade, he took it upon himself to apply to a local community college as a dual enrollee and was accepted by Monroe County Community College.
In his free time, Cade plays drums for a band called Detroit Havoc. He also loves video games and social media. In fact, he forged a few great friendships with other GLLA students—some who lived 10 hours away!”