ACA field trip

Students enrolled at Alabama Connections Academy have their photo made beneath a rocket at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. Despite being an online school, students enrolled in ACA participate in field trips.

Last year, the Alabama community welcomed Alabama Connections Academy (ALCA), a K-12 online public school and the second online school in the state, to serve students statewide.

Throughout the school year we have strived to provide students with the tools they need to succeed and with the flexibility to learn at their own pace. As our first year comes to an end, I’d like to reflect on the many elements that made it a great one.

Our school’s entrance began with our wonderful partnership with our authorizer, the Limestone County Public School District. We were lucky to find a partner that values providing high-quality education as much as we do — education available to students regardless of their zip code. Through many information sessions, we were able to share with families this new, high-quality, virtual program for their students.

The interest and enthusiasm for this new school option was incredible! In fact, we initially anticipated ALCA would serve roughly 250-400 students during our school’s first year. We were elated when more than 1,000 students had enrolled in our school by the end of the first semester, a testament to the value of this education option. Community interest continued to grow, and families’ positive reviews were shared through social media groups, news articles and other channels.

Our staff also expanded to best serve our students. I am very proud of our strong team of Alabama state-certified teachers. We started with a staff of 16 and quickly grew to more than 30 just after the first semester. The teachers at Alabama Connections Academy are dedicated to helping their students succeed from day one — this starts by getting acquainted with our online learning platform, robust curriculum and its many enrichment activities.

There were many memorable moments throughout our first year, but what stands out the most to us are the opportunities to spend face-to-face time with our students and families. Each semester we held regional field trips at various sites around the entire state of Alabama.

Some of the places we visited included the Cathedral Caverns State Park, where our students saw one of the world’s largest stalagmites and experienced total darkness, and the Tuskegee Airmen Museum, that taught students about these brave men who defended our country. We also visited Ivy Green, the birthplace of Helen Keller. Our students were inspired to see the well-pump that Anne Sullivan used to help Helen Keller learn to communicate.

Our most popular event was field day, bringing together more than 75 students for a day of fun competition and games. Students, families and teachers alike looked forward to these activities and the opportunity to interact with each other while enjoying engaging educational excursions.

Just like any other public school, our students are required to attend state testing in the spring. In this first year of implementing a state testing plan we were incredibly pleased that the state required 95 percent participation was met for all areas of testing. There were more than 15 test sites spread across the beautiful state and parents and families enjoyed another socialization opportunity while students were testing.

We have one more important milestone that we are looking forward to this year, the first graduating class of Alabama Connections Academy. We are extremely proud of our 12th grade students who have met the state graduation requirements for their diplomas.

The graduation ceremony will be held at the University of Montevallo in its beautiful Palmer auditorium. The ceremony will celebrate our students’ long journey of learning and will propel them into their post high school endeavors.

Looking ahead, Alabama Connections Academy staff are very excited to welcome many new students for the start of year two. With such a wonderful state that is full of history, science and discovery there are endless possibilities for what experiences we can offer our students.

— Dean is the principal of Alabama Connections Academy, a statewide virtual school operating from the former Owens Elementary School in Limestone County. For more on the school, visit https://bit.ly/2IeAyBZ.

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