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Virtual School Program initiated in county system

A two-part Virtual School Pilot Program has been initiated in the Morgan County School system.

The program was presented to school board members at a work session Jan. 8.

Dr. Anne Knowlton, elementary curriculum director, addressed the K-5 part of the program and explained how it can be mutually beneficial to home school students as well as Morgan County Schools.

“As far as we can tell, no other school system in the state is offering a K-5 virtual school program for home school students,” Knowlton said.

Layne Dillard, K-12 curriculum special programs director, introduced the 9-12 part of the program and told how students attending the system’s five high schools can use it to take courses on line.”

“We have 25 slots for the K-5 pilot and enrollment will be on first come, first served basis for home school students with Internet access,” said Superintendent Bill Hopkins Jr. “What this could mean for both home school students and the school system is unbelievable.”

A home school parent training meeting is scheduled January 26 from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Morgan County Media Center.  It is designed to teach home school parents how to use the resources available on Edmenum, the virtual program’s provider.

“Each child in the K-5 pilot program will take a placement test at the Morgan County Central Office to determine at what level he or she is working,” said Knowlton. “For example, a child may be in the first grade, but working on a third grade level in math and a first grade level in reading. This test will allow parents to know at what level their children are working. Then a prescriptive learning path will be created by Edmentum for the child.”

“Students will have a teacher from Edmentum assigned to them, and they have access to that teacher 24/7,” she added. “There is no charge for the program.”

If parents choose, the students may participate in extracurricular activities at a Morgan County school nearest to them – field trips, art/music and other activities.

“We are doing a pilot so we will hopefully have an idea of how to roll this program out in the fall if it works well” stated Knowlton. “Right now, I need highly motivated parents to tell me what works, what doesn’t and what would make the program better.”

The program will run through May. Students will take a placement test at the beginning, a benchmark test around the middle of the semester and a post-test to show growth.”

Knowlton said if the K-5 pilot program works well and is continued next fall, home school students will be enrolled in the Morgan County School System. Morgan County would receive state money for these students (around $6,000 per child) Then, Morgan County would pay Edmentum for online resources. Students would participate in any activities they choose. A teacher would possibly have 25 students on roll, but only 23 students in the classroom.

“Our enrollment would increase, but not the pupil-teacher ratio,” Knowlton said. “We want the parents and students to have a teacher at school to be their connection to Morgan County Schools, to develop a relationship and  a point of contact if the parents need assistance.”

The 9-12 Virtual school is for Morgan County students only. Students at the five high schools may take courses offered at school (i.e. 11th grade English) online so they could take an additional elective course at school. For example, if a student wants to take ROTC and band, but doesn’t have time in his schedule, he could take second semester English online to free up his schedule.  Or, if a student wants to take a foreign language not currently offered at his school, he may do so.

Fifty slots are available this year.  These are rationed out to the five high schools, according to the number of enrolled students. Brewer has 20 slots, Priceville and West Morgan have nine each, Danville has seven and Falkville has five. The 9-12 program is offered at no charge this semester. There will be a $100 charge for the student who drops out after a grace period because Morgan County is paying for these classes.  The 9-12 program is not really a pilot program because high school students enrolled will receive a half credit for the semester. This program begins Feb. 2.