Mobile County Public School students will have expanded educational options in the coming school year, as the system becomes the second in the state to offer an entirely virtual experience.
The Envision Virtual School is similar to a program in Baldwin County, but will expand on its offering to include students in grades 6-12.
Virtual academies have really boomed in popularity and are currently offered in 30 states across the country.
Superintendent Martha Peek said when classes begin in August, the target enrollment will be around 250 students. Applications are already available online at mcpss.com. In the future, the system hopes to offer online courses to as many as 500 students.
“Since opening the Evening Education Options Program in 2008, we’ve worked to provide multiple pathways to school success and graduation for all students,” Peek said. “These (include) the traditional school programs, Signature Academies, Pathway School, magnet schools and now, the Envision Virtual Academy. All of these provide quality education options for all of the families throughout Mobile County.”
Because of its curriculum, Interim Chief Academic Officer Karen Mohr said students who apply need to be very focused, driven and need to excel while working independently.
The actual interface students will use online has yet to be decided, but Mohr said it would have to be presented to and approved by the Board of Education before being implemented.
Through Envision, students will have the flexibility to decide what time of day to do their work, or even which days to work. They will also have options to take breaks as long as they are staying on pace at 15 hours per week.
Though they’ll have to give up extra curricular activities like band, sports and school functions, students will have much greater flexibility and will be able to complete high school at a faster pace, if they choose to.
Students will earn a traditional Alabama high school diploma once they finish their courses of study, but it will indicate the student graduated from a virtual academy within the Mobile County school system.
Core courses like English, mathematics, science and history will be offered, as well as some advanced courses. Foreign languages and electives will also be available, including an online physical education class.
As for staffing, the school will have one full-time principal and teachers of record that will be contracted hourly.
“All the positions will be filled as needed,” Mohr said. “Teachers of record will monitor student progress, tutor students, communicate with students and parents and assign grades based on the online work.”
Envision courses also offer “virtual teacher” support that students can access as needed. Live teachers will be available for additional support at designated times each week. The accountability measures at the virtual school will be comparable to the traditional schools in the system and Envision will report all of its academic progress back to the central office.
Mohr said students would complete all quarterly and high stakes assessments, but will have to do so at the MCPSS district office, which is the only time they will be in an actual brick-and-mortar classroom.
“(It) will provide another unique, individualized pathway for students, to ensure that all MCPSS students graduate on time and college and career ready,” Mohr said. “The Envision curriculum will allow students to accelerate their academic progress or use additional time for remediation.”
That means more time for individualized attention for students who are struggling in a certain area. Officials are also expecting the new format to help increase the system’s graduation rate, which is currently at 75 percent based on 2014 data — just below the state’s 80 percent average.
Any student at any MCPSS school with access to the Internet will be able to apply.
The academic year for Envision students will begin Aug. 7 and end July 31, 2015. However, students will have the option to complete their work early.
For more information or to submit an application for the Envision Virtual School, visit mcpss.com.
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