Published 8:50 am Friday, July 11, 2008

Gov. Bob Riley wants every high school in Alabama to offer ACCESS distance learning by the beginning of the 2009-10 school year.

Currently, half of the high schools in Chilton County are equipped with the program, which allows students to take online courses and participate in interactive videoconferencing (IVC). These schools are Chilton County High, Maplesville and Verbena.

Now, the other schools in the system are poised to implement the new technology.

“Jemison High School, Thorsby and Isabella will be getting the same equipment as the other schools,” said Technology Coordinator Mary Clyde Huff. “We hope to get everything going by January in all three schools.”

If that doesn’t happen by then, Huff added, it should happen in time for the next school year.

Meanwhile, students at CCHS, Maplesville and Verbena are using laptops to take online courses that are not otherwise offered by rural schools.

“In the creative writing class, they really enjoy [the online method],” said Allison McClure, facilitator of Maplesville’s distance learning lab. “It has done really well.”

Creative writing students can interact with other students from across the state, post their writings online, and comment on each other’s work.

McClure says online courses can familiarize students with similar courses they might take in college.

“I have a lot of students who are interested in French,” said Regina Bryant, facilitator of Chilton County High School’s distance learning lab.

In this foreign language course, students have learned about French language, culture and cuisine. They have even made dishes from online recipes.

Other popular online courses at CCHS are Latin, personal finance and creative writing.

At Verbena, teacher Deborah Ward is doing something that is totally new to her after 20 years in education. She is teaching a summer Algebra II/trigonometry course online.

“This is one of the key components of the ACCESS program, for students to be able to receive credit recovery,” Ward said.

The 20 students in her class are from all over the state. She calls the six-week course “very rigorous” and says it teaches students how to solve problems on their own.

“This way, I really think it’s caused them to become good problem solvers,” she said.

Whenever the students have a question, they e-mail Ward. They also submit daily assignments to her, and she does her best to provide feedback by the next day.

Although online courses are demanding for both students and teachers, those who participate in them seem to enjoy working at their own pace. This allows even homebound students to stay caught up with their coursework if they have access to a computer in their home.

“The ones that take these courses are self-motivated,” Huff said. “They take ownership in their learning, and they really like that.”

ACCESS stands for Alabama Connecting Classrooms, Educators and Students Statewide.