Originally published to Yellow Hammer News - August 24th, 2022
Like many students around the country, Alabama students struggled to succeed during two years of school closures, mask mandates, and other issues related to COVID.
But for one small group of Alabama students, the last two years not only didn’t slow them down but allowed many of them to take great strides forward into the future.
Approximately 5,500 students attend Alabama Virtual Academy and Alabama Destinations Career Academy, two online schools that serve students in various grades throughout the state, and they collectively saw an increase of nearly 100% from pre-COVID years.
“Our families appreciated the individualized support we provided our students that meet both their academic and social emotional needs,” said Melanie Barkley, executive director at ALVA. “Our schools were built upon an online first model that served our students well throughout the pandemic where no days were lost to shut downs.”
But for schools like ALVA and ALDCA, it wasn’t enough to just maintain the status quo. They took steps to move their kids into the future. ALVA has connections with over 20 Alabama community colleges, giving their students a chance at dual enrollment, a way to take college level classes, earning valuable credits and keeping down future tuition costs, all while still in high school.
ALDCA also has connections with 23 out of 24 Alabama community colleges as well as Auburn, Troy, Jacksonville State and The University of Alabama Early College. In addition, ALDCA is an online high school built around career pathways in health sciences, IT, and advanced manufacturing, all designed to give high school students a sense of what these careers may look like before they head off to college or the job market.
2022 ALDCA senior Ezrael G. was enrolled in the IT pathway and also took courses at Bishop State Community College in Mobile. He was on track to complete 12 college credit hours before the end of the school year, while still in high school, setting him up for success at the next level.
“High school should be a place where kids learn new things, try new opportunities. If you’re curious about IT or Nursing, wouldn’t it be better to sort that out before you head to college? We give you that chance,” said Dr. Kisha Tolbert, head of school at ALDCA.
But what about performance? We know that some critics slam online schools on testing and other issues. We can say that ALVA had a higher graduation rate than the state average, testing scores aligned closely with their school districts, and most importantly, ALVA and ALDCA students did not experience any reading loss because of disruption caused by COVID.
Former ALVA student Abigail Barr summed it up best. A National Merit Scholar, who was waiting on answers to her college applications from Columbia and Harvard, recently told us that “my wonderful teachers have done their very best to provide me with foundational opportunities like AP classes and dual enrollment with local universities so that I could be one step closer to achieving my lofty goals. The classroom environment has felt increasingly personalized over my time with ALVA, and I’m forever grateful for it.”
Melanie Barkley is the executive director Alabama Virtual Academy
Dr. Kisha Tolbert is the head of school at the Alabama Destinations Career Academy