MARICOPA — As students in Maricopa prepare for the new school year, many are looking forward to a return to in-person education. For some students though, the transition to online school has been a permanent and surprisingly welcome change to their education.

Kaden Rogers, 17, is an incoming senior at Maricopa High School who will be attending Maricopa Virtual Academy this next school year after he thrived in online school last year.

“The most rewarding thing was being able to kind of work on my own schedule,” Kaden said of online schooling. “I felt like I was more productive at home, because I was able to kind of prioritize things in a different way than I would at school. I know, for a lot of people, the structure of school is really beneficial for them. But for me … I like to structure in my own way, and I was able to do that online.”

Kaden reluctantly entered the online school system last year along with his classmates due to the pandemic and, after a brief stint of in-person learning, eventually found it easier to just remain online for the whole school year. Unexpectedly though, he found himself thriving in the online environment where he could focus on his hobbies and future goals.

“I don’t think I would have ever even considered something like this if it wasn’t for COVID, because it kind of forced everyone to do it,” Rogers said. “I think I would have been in-person, (but) I think I would have been annoyed a lot of the time,” he joked.

This is because Kaden isn’t like most other students his age. Kaden’s greatest passion lies in filmmaking, and the budding film director already has a few short films and commercials under his belt. His short film “Little Tavern in the Woods” debuted in October 2020, and he’s already created several commercials for local businesses like Someburros.

From his experience with “Little Tavern in the Woods,” Kaden was able to secure a production assistant role on set with the TV Superman Dean Cain, for JCFilms. But film schedules do not exactly align with a regular school day, and Kaden found it difficult to adhere to both.

“When I switched back to online (school) from in-person, I noticed that I was able to schedule my day around film, rather than scheduling my film jobs around school,” Kaden said. “Say I had to go do a film shoot at nine o’clock in the morning. If I was in-person, I obviously wouldn’t have been able to do that. But being online, I was able to go to that shoot, come back and finish my school.”

The stellar student has a 4.5 GPA and is involved with the National Honor Society. In addition, Kaden founded the Film Club at MHS, which he is now president of. The only thing he misses about in-person schooling this last year was the lack of social involvement with his peers.

“School was both social and educational, and I think the social part of it was kind of unnoticed for a while. Then COVID hit, and it showed you how social that interaction was — even if you were just really focused on learning,” Kaden said. “What I’ve learned from (school) online is just how important that social part of it is.”

The lack of social interaction was partially due to COVID-19, and Kaden is looking forward to a more diverse class schedule next year.

With Maricopa Virtual Academy, he will be able to take Advanced Placement government and AP literature entirely online and will also be able to participate in his in-person technical theater class at the high school. This allows him and other students in MVA to take part in the extracurriculars they enjoy and spend time with friends without sacrificing their schedule flexibility.

Kaden will also be enrolled in diversified occupation, a vocational program that allows him to focus on creating an LLC company and continue furthering his film career. In the future, Kaden would like to work as a director, and he greatly enjoys drama, thriller and documentary genres. For now though, he’s hoping to boost his repertoire through commercial work and small films.

Most recently, Kaden worked on a solo short film that covered his 2020 experience with COVID. He said he draws most of his inspiration for films through music, listening to the lyrics and scanning the album covers for creativity.

“Kaden is a very self-motivated student,” said Amy Rogers, Kaden’s mom. “We’ve never had to encourage him to get his homework done, or stay on top of his assignments or study for tests. … When the online opportunity came up, he was able to just crank through his classes. He could get the coursework done at a faster pace and kind of manage it within his time frame.”

The Rogers family runs a successful karate business in Maricopa called Arizona American Institute for Self Defense Arts, and Kaden has participated in karate from the time he was small. He is the eldest of three, and his younger sister also attends MHS but will continue to go in-person.

“Each one of our kids is pretty different as far as what suits them. Having these opportunities now and this choice in it — an avenue for them to each get what they need out of school — it’s just so awesome,” Rogers said.

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Katie Sawyer covers Maricopa and the surrounding area for PinalCentral, including city, education, business, crime and more. She can be reached at ksawyer@pinalcentral.com.