Alabama students now have even more options in their education, thanks to Alabama Connections Academy.

ALCA, a fully-accredited virtual public school, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house at the former Owens Elementary campus to signal the start of their 2017-2018 school year. Teachers, students and their families joined Limestone school and county officials at the event.

"ALCA will bring flexibility and choice to Alabama families," ALCA Principal Jodie Dean said. "Education has become a competitive entity, and students and their families need something that fits their needs."

Dean served as principal of New Mexico Connections for two years before accepting the position in Alabama. Dean described the virtual school approach as a "really good fit for all types of students," though those who are significantly ahead or behind in the classroom or who learn at a different pace will greatly benefit from this learning format.

The tuition-free school is open to all students and includes provisions for Section 504 and Individualized Education Program students.

“A typical day for virtual students isn't much different from going to a brick-and-mortar school,” Dean said. “They don't have to catch a bus or drive to school. Instead, they go to their workspace, access their schedule and begin their work on each subject.”

Teachers will provide live online lessons at designated times during the day. During these periods, students are expected to participate. A chat pod option is available if the student has questions. These same teachers closely monitor their student's progress and reach out to them on a regular basis.

It is the parent's or designated learning coach's responsibility to log the student's attendance.

The ribbon cutting was held in Limestone County because Superintendent Dr. Tom Sisk and the school board were instrumental in bringing the program to Alabama.

“The district is a very innovative, forward-thinking district, and they see value in offering different types of educational models to meet student's varied needs,” Karen Duquette of Connections Academy said. “We're fortunate to work with such a talented group.”

During the ceremony, Sisk referred to the audience as a “pioneering group.” He said that while phones and airplanes have changed drastically over last 100 years, the classroom hasn't.

“With Alabama Connections, we no longer have to be limited,” Sisk said.

Currently, 920 students are enrolled in the virtual program statewide. Thirty are from Limestone County.

Zoe Champion, a freshman from Leeds, transferred into the virtual program from a traditional public school just this week. Her busy dance and acting schedule combined with her involvement in the Miss America organization made attending school difficult.

“I travel a lot with the Miss America organization, and I have a platform where I volunteer in my community,” she said. “Now I take school with me.”

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