Sophomore Saxon Alberstadt transferred from homeschool, eager to socialize more and participate in group activities. Destinie Diggs did the same thing as a junior, looking for networking opportunities, resources and communication with teachers. Sophomore Abigail Ranck followed some friends who left the classroom environment at Fairhope High School, interested in creating her own schedule and working at her own pace.
They are just three of the nearly 300 students now enrolled in Baldwin County Virtual School, breaking in the latest of four campuses to open, this one in a former Mazda dealership on U.S. Route 98 in Daphne.
“We have students of all different types — some may be involved in athletics and need the freedom to travel, some may be actors working on auditions all the time and need flexibility, there are students with medical needs who can study at home and come in only when they need to test — it’s a real broad range,” said Principal Holly Resmondo at an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday.
The Baldwin County Board of Education purchased the building and land for the new virtual school last December for $1.8 million, and spent another $1.4 million on renovations and furnishings.
“It’s bought and paid for … a turnkey facility,” Superintendent Eddie Tyler said. “It’s been a long time coming and is another piece of the puzzle of what we’re trying to do to accommodate our families in coastal Alabama.”
With a total of about 22,000 square feet, the building remains largely open and collaborative. It contains only two small classrooms for instruction, but the majority of student areas are for conferences, meeting space and testing. There are also 14 offices for teachers, administrators and staff, a small café and a picnic area.
Open to students in grades seven – 12 with a GPA of 2.5 or higher and a favorable disciplinary and attendance record, Baldwin County Virtual School also offers tuition-free dual enrollment with Coastal Alabama Community College (CACC), opportunities to graduate early, plus the ability to participate in sports, music, art, ROTC and other extracurricular activities at any of the county’s brick-and-mortar schools.
“It’s an amazing program where students can take all their classes online, but they can come for tests, tutoring, counseling, club meetings … all kinds of activities here and on other campuses,” Resmondo said, adding the Daphne campus typically has 40 to 50 students present daily. “We’ve had events including Friendsgiving and today we had cupcake wars — but most of our students do their coursework at home and come here to take their tests.”
Online courses are primarily taught by teachers statewide, via the Alabama Connecting Classrooms, Educators and Students Statewide (ACCESS) Distance Learning program administered by Troy University. There are about 10 educators on the virtual school campus, but due to the enrollment numbers, the county can currently claim 17 teacher units, with the excess deployed elsewhere around the county as needed.
“That is huge for us,” Tyler said.
Applications for the January term are currently being accepted. Baldwin County Virtual School also has classrooms at CACC campuses in Bay Minette, Fairhope and Gulf Shores, but “this will be the headquarters,” Resmondo said.
“We’re looking for motivated students who may need that flexibility with their time and are looking to excel in school at their own pace,” she said. “This isn’t for students who don’t want to do the work. Virtual school is hard, but everyone leaves here prepared for college.”
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