Gulf Shores Virtual Academy is ready for students

By Melanie LeCroy
Posted 8/7/19

Gulf Shores City School’s have been working hard to prepare for the upcoming school year at the new Gulf Shores City Schools and Virtual campus. Gulf Shores Virtual Academy registration is …

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Gulf Shores Virtual Academy is ready for students

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Gulf Shores City School’s have been working hard to prepare for the upcoming school year at the new Gulf Shores City Schools and Virtual campus. Gulf Shores Virtual Academy registration is open, and Dr. Stephanie Harrison, assistant superintendent, and her team say they are working with to create a unique curriculum.

Gulf Shores Virtual Academy is open to students in grades 6-12 and is the only virtual school in the county offering sixth-grade classes. Due to a lack of curriculum available for sixth-grade virtual students, Gulf Shores has created their own for all subjects that will be taught virtually by Gulf Shores own sixth-grade teachers.

Most of the courses for the other grade levels have been created at the University of Alabama by instructional designers, subject matter experts and teachers from across the state. All classes are designed in conjunction with the Alabama State Department of Education. Teachers throughout the state of Alabama will serve as virtual instructors, and there will be a face-to-face instructor based in the Virtual Academy classroom. Virtual teachers are available to students via email and Webex.

Gulf Shores has also created courses that will be taught by Gulf Shores teachers. Classes include all 6th-grade classes, 7th-grade science and social studies, and three electives; Independent Study, The Novel and an Internship program.

“Independent study is a class where we work with students to structure what they want to learn around their needs and interests. If you are interested in space, we will work with you to design an independent research project about space. This could include helping them gather resources, design what that learning is going to look like, design how they are going to show us what was learned. Students will make a public presentation of the knowledge and skills they acquired during their course,” Harrison said.

“The Novel is for students interested in intensely investigating particular books. They will participate in book club type discussions and write about the books they have read. In the Internship type program, students will record hours and activities and what they are working on. It could be a paid internship, volunteer work, or a job they currently have. They will be able to earn course credit,” Harrison explained.

Students at the Virtual School have a unique choice to choose a blended option, meaning they can take classes virtually and in person.

“If you are into chorus or art and want to be in the classroom with the teacher working on those projects, you have that opportunity. Alternatively, maybe you struggle in math and want to take that class on campus. If you love science and want to do all the in-class science experiments, the blended option give you that opportunity. As far as I know, we are the only system in our region that offers the blended option,” Harrison said.

Virtual Academy students will also be able to participate in club activities, pep rallies, sports, assemblies and field trips. You don’t have to miss out on any of those activities.

The Virtual Academy’s location at the high school makes it very convenient. Students can take a class and then go back to the virtual academy classroom to work on schoolwork, take a test, get some tutoring, and then go to a pep rally. The classroom is spacious and will be set up to look more like a student center. It will feature flexible seating with a collaboration area, lab space, quiet areas for testing and studying, and a refrigerator will be available for students to store their lunch. There will also be an eating area.

Dual enrollment is available to virtual academy students starting in 10th grade.

“We are in the process of seeking dual enrollment agreements with Coastal Alabama, University of South Alabama, Auburn University and the University of Alabama,” Harrison said.

Students will be able to earn core college requirements before graduating. The agreement with Coastal Alabama includes up to 18 free college hours, South Alabama’s agreement includes one free class, while Auburn and Alabama have an agreement where the tuition is significantly reduced.

Harrison said, “Virtual school is not for everyone. Virtual learning is difficult, and it is time-consuming. You need to be a strong reader as a lot of the courses are text-based.

“Virtual school might be a good fit for students looking for a flexible schedule or those that need more time at home. Maybe they are involved in a hobby or sport and need additional time for practice or students that travel a lot with their families. Sometimes students are caretakers for their families. Students can work at their own pace, but they can’t get behind. Progress and grades will be monitored weekly, and students are expected to complete their weekly work,” she said.

Enrollment is currently open but will close two weeks after school starts. Applications are available online. Students must be on grade level for reading and math, and high school level students must be on track for graduation. Gulf Shores Virtual Academy is also open with no application fee and free tuition to non-resident students. Applications are reviewed by Nelson and a small team to ensure students meet the requirements.

For more information or to apply, visit https://www.gsboe.org/departments/virtual-school