Athens Renaissance School will enter its third year as an accredited K-12 blended and virtual education program this fall, providing a growing number of children from throughout North Alabama a customized, student-oriented approach to learning.

Envisioned by Athens City Schools Superintendent Trey Holladay and the Athens City Board of Education, Athens Renaissance provides options for today's students that traditional brick-and-mortar schools can't. With four learning paths to select from, students can choose from an almost entirely virtual program with schoolwork completed online and messaging support from teachers, or they can choose blended programs that include some virtual work and some in-class work at the Renaissance campus.

Students in all of the pathways can generally work at their own pace, moving ahead or seeking help from an in-school or a virtual teacher when they fall behind. School Principal Nelson Brown said many families travel a lot or have children that are heavily involved in outside activities which require more flexibility. Others work better independently, and some kids just don't fit the traditional school mode.

“We are very big on school choice here at Athens City Schools,” he said. “Sometimes, students want to do projects and work in groups. Others want to set their own course, and others want to do more online.”

“We try to organize the pathways to accommodate all of these (types of students),” he said.

This year, the school tweaked their in-house class schedule to include more opportunities for students to work on projects together. Using Project Lead the Way as a framework, interested students will collaborate on science, math, history and technology projects throughout the year. Brown said the nature of these projects is fluid and will be determined largely by the students themselves.

“We are about providing a personalized learning experience for each child that allows them to grow both academically and socially,” Brown said.

The school will also feature a new makerspace. Equipped with a Lego wall, a 3-D printer, circuit boards, robotic gadgets and art supplies, students can build, create, explore and figure things out experimentally.

Last year, 380 students enrolled in Athens Renaissance School. This year, Brown expects that number to exceed 500 as more and more parents favor the flexibility of a virtual school.

He said about one-third of students who enroll in Renaissance's program come from the public school system. Another one-third comes from private schools, and the remaining one-third is from homeschooling.

“With Renaissance, parents have the ability to know exactly what the student is learning, and they have the opportunity to be involved in the process,” Brown said. “We are seeing parents who want to have more ownership in their child's learning path.”

In years past, Brown said parents often struggled to coordinate their work schedules with their children's nontraditional class schedules, so this year, the school will offer a childcare program for students grades K–8 called "The Bridge."

“This gives families who may be concerned about enrolling their children because of scheduling conflicts more options,” he said.

Students at Renaissance follow the same testing schedule as Athens City Schools and will be expected to come to the school to take standardized tests three times per year. Tuition is free, even for out-of-zone students, but parents must pay an Apple Macbook lease fee of $50 per child.

High school students at Renaissance can dual enroll and participate in sports and extracurricular activities on a case-by case basis through Athens City Schools.

Registration for the program is on a first-come, first-serve basis. Additional information about the program and online students applications can be found at www.acs-k12.org/ars. Orientation is on Aug. 18, and classes begin Aug. 30.