Virtual academy educates in real life
by Mark Andrews
Oct 20, 2012 | 1166 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Since spring semester 2012, the Bartow Virtual Academy has provided a free virtual learning environment for 32 students in the county who, for a myriad of different reasons, take high school courses online.

“I believe it’s just a blessing we have a great superintendent that believes not all students are created equal, so to speak, and they don’t all walk to the same drummer and our board is 100 percent behind the fact our kids are coming from a different world than we came from and that we’ve got to get on board with the rest of the country,” Bartow County Learning Center Director Larry Parker said. “They’re predicting that 50 percent of the schools in the United States by 2020 will be virtual schools.”

Spearheaded by Superintendent John Harper, the academy is a facet of the learning center, which is located at the old Cass High School on Grassdale Road. In fall 2013, the site is expected to house the Bartow County College and Career Academy, with the school board approving the BCCCA charter in August.

The academy allows students to work from home and parents can acquire daily a student’s progress in terms of completing course work and time spent on course work. It also allows students and parents to find what class options work best for the individual situation, letting students complete their work while still being a student at their school of origin.

“We had one girl who completed four classes in one month and now she gets to go back to Cass High School in January and graduate with her class,” Parker said. “She would not have had that opportunity under a system that does not have this type of program for them.”

He said a downside to the academy is the lack of more computers to serve more students.

“The one negative is we had over 169 applicants but we only have 32 slots and I feel I broke a lot of people’s hearts ... but the ones that did get to come, they are benefiting greatly from the fact they are catching up,” Parker said. “We have nine probably who are going to graduate in January and to me it’s almost a miracle that we’re able to do it, but I wish the state would allow us more funding so we could have another lab.”

The system has hired teachers who can come to the academy to help students in certain areas and teachers also may be contacted through email.

“I was homeschooled and instead of going to regular school I wanted to come here,” junior Melanie Crowder said. “... We have two courses we take at a time and I’m taking world history and algebra right now.”

She said she likes having flexibility when it comes to time spent working on a subject, but said she also appreciates having a central area to work instead of at home.

“[The Bartow Virtual Academy] is more structured because at home it’s too easy to get distracted,” Crowder said.

For many students, the traditional high school setting itself can be distracting. If a student falls behind, the Bartow Virtual Academy offers credit recovery.

“I was going to Woodland [High School] and I was following the wrong crowd of kids and I failed four classes [last year], and they gave me the option of either going back to Woodland and taking seven classes a day or coming here until December and taking four classes,” Dustin Ray said.

Ray is completing the four senior-level classes to acquire his diploma from WHS.