New education option offers free full-time virtual learning experience

(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)

ENTERPRISE, AL (WSFA) - There is a new education option for your student this fall. It's called Alabama Connections Academy. The free, public school option offers a full-time virtual learning experience for students in kindergarten through the 12th grade.

"We know that every student learns differently, so we can provide a personalized learning plan that meets the state standards as well as the national standard," said Alan Chapman, Marketing Program Manager with Connections Academy.

Chapman said this program provides a rich curriculum with a flexible work schedule.

"No school is better than the other, but sometimes this may work with a student who needs a little more flexibility as well as a little more personalized learning," Chapman said.

The curriculum for the program is contracted through Connections Education, which is accredited through AdvancED.

AdvancED is an accrediting program that reviews school systems.

With Alabama Connections Academy students have access to gifted, Honors, and Advanced Placement classes.

As a public school, students must take all state tests to get a state high school diploma. Alabama Connections Academy is also NCAA approved.

Chapman said the individualized learning approach helps teachers connect with students on a more personal level.

"Our teachers usually come from a brick and mortar school and they tell us they have more interaction and involvement with the student because they actually call the student and talk to them one-on-one on the phone," he said.

The full-time virtual program is a new approach that not everyone in the education field can get behind.

"I hold a lot of respect for our teachers that are in our buildings. It's hard for me to imagine the work they do. The relationships they build with their students can be replaced 100 percent through a virtual program," said Danny Long, Secondary Director of Instruction for Enterprise Schools.

Alabama Connections Academy is authorized by Limestone County School District. Students enrolled in the virtual program would be students in that school district regardless of where they live.

According to the system's website, Limestone County has over 8,000 students, but their enrollment has d ropped recently. Programs like the AdvanceED program would bring more students - and the federal and state dollars that come along with their enrollment.

Schools officials in Enterprise say they aren't concerned about losing students to virtual programs.

"Our enrollment has been trending up for as long as I have been here. I am getting ready to start my 13th year," Long said.

But in looking at the potential impact, if a large number of students transfer school systems because of a program like this, any school system could take a hit.

"For every so many students at the high school level, we receive a teaching unit. If we're funded for 100 teaching units and we lost 17.95 students at the high school level, eventually we would have one less teacher to fund," said Long.

Chapman said final numbers for fall enrollment are not in yet but they are expecting a large number of students from the state.

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