“Dude, I don’t even know these kids and I am crying,” I said to the woman seated behind me. It’s true. Last week I attended a high school graduation and I didn’t know a single one of the 53 kids who were graduating. But I cried my eyes out anyway. No, it’s not some weird stalker hobby of mine to attend random high school graduations. There were three big reasons why I was there.

First, the school is called the Village Green Virtual Public Charter School. That is a mouthful. But VGV started just three years ago when the founder of the school approached Todd and asked if Todd’s company could help build the technology platform for the school.

See, VGV is not an ordinary kind of high school. It’s a virtual high school. That means that the students do most of the work online. The come into the school, sit down at the computer, and are given their coursework which is delivered via the Internet. There are teachers there to guide these kids, and the students and group up together and collaborate while they learn. The students can perform their coursework at their own pace, and there is a strict no homework policy.

Last week the first graduating class wore their caps and gowns and received their diplomas. I listened to speeches by some of the students who found the virtual model worked a lot better than the traditional high school we all are familiar with. In a traditional high school, when a student gets interested in a topic and starts learning, the bell rings and the kid has to get up and move to some other room where they’ll talk about some other topic. The window for learning closes and the kid now has to focus on something else. The virtual model allows the student to spend as much time as they want on a given topic, and allows them to take control of their education at their own speed.

This is a new concept in the education world, and my husband’s company helped to make it happen. Which brings me to the second reason why I attended that graduation: Todd was the commencement speaker. He talked to the grads about the difference between being prepared and being equipped. He talked to them about innovation, and about how they paved the way to a new way of learning that will likely be implemented in other areas of the country. His speech was funny and engaging, and I hope that the students were able to take something from it as well.

The third reason why I attended is because Todd, for my birthday, set up a scholarship in memory of my mom. It was called the Jane Kruzel Memorial Scholarship. We awarded two students with $250, and then VGV matched our donation so that four students would receive the award. I got to watch, with tears in my eyes, while these kids went up to the podium and Todd handed them their certificates. I wrote them letters about who my mom was and her secrets for success as well.

These 53 graduates all had something in common, by applying to a charter school. The traditional high school model didn’t work for them for one reason or another. The pace at which the information is presented in a traditional high school may be too fast, or it may be too slow. Maybe self-study is a more effective method for absorbing information than having someone sit there and talk at you for an hour. Whatever the issue was, those 53 kids made a virtual learning environment work for them, and I think it was 80% or so will go on to college.

It was exciting to get the chance to be in on the ground floor of a new learning model for Todd. And it’s exciting for me to get to help these students move into the next chapter of their educational career with a scholarship. And I am so thankful for the opportunity.

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.