Inspire Virtual Academy gives students another option beyond traditional classrooms

Published 9:00 am Friday, December 9, 2022

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The Inspire Virtual Academy program has implemented innovative methods to provide dynamic, accommodating education to the students of Chambers County for free. 

“Since COVID, many kids have found it stress-inducing to go into the classrooms,” said Inspire Virtual Academy Principal Dr. Tyler Nelson. “Every kid’s situation is unique, so this gives them another option. It also alleviates a lot of the hardships that would be associated with things like homeschooling.”

Inspire Virtual Academy is the online education program at Inspire Academy. The program allows students to take courses virtually throughout the day. Nelson said the classes are all open and free to all Chambers County students.

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Ember Williams, a junior at Inspire Virtual Academy, has taken online classes since the ninth grade. Williams said she enjoys getting to work on her schedule without worrying about missing lessons. 

“Being able to go to my appointments but still be able to do my schoolwork and not have a bunch to make up is amazing,” Williams said. “I love the program here.”

Because students are a part of Chambers County School System, they still have access to the extracurricular activities at their zoned schools and the other classes at the career tech. Though she attends the virtual school, Williams plays in the band at her zoned high school.

“Let’s face it. In the middle of the day, would you rather get a text or a call?” said Math and Science Instructor Jonathan Reynolds. “Honestly, I have much better interaction with students online simply because it’s 24-hour access.”

Reynolds began teaching math and science at Inspire Virtual Academy this year. He said that virtual learning allows him to connect with students one-on-one better than in a traditional classroom.

Many students send questions to Reynolds throughout the day as they work asynchronously. After the students go through the steps of the lesson on their own and see examples, they must perform the task by themselves.

“That’s when you get the email saying they don’t understand,” Reynolds said. “I can immediately step in…It’s actually far more hands-on. I see the work that they’re putting in. I see the steps. It provides so much more opportunity than lugging a stack of papers around.”

Reynolds also said the experience students get in the virtual classroom leaves them better prepared for life after high school. If they start in the seventh grade, the students get five years of experience working online and self-motivating.

Another way Inspire Virtual changes the game is by integrating the ACCESS Franchise Model in their instruction. The program is a state-accredited virtual learning platform facilitated through the University of Alabama.

Though Nelson hired instructors within the school district to teach the core classes, there is an extensive list of electives facilitated by instructors across the state. In addition to her core classes, Williams takes teacher education, which helps prepare students to be an educator.

“This program works because of the Access Franchise Model we use,” Reynolds said. “Because of the way it’s set up, it makes it easier for us to do our job, which is administering.”

However, by taking a non-traditional path, students are assuming increased time management and self-motivation responsibility. Williams said it can be challenging to keep up with the deadlines. She keeps a planner and color-codes her notes to stay on task.

“In a traditional classroom, it’s easier to monitor, but we try to provide accommodations for students,” said Virtual School Facilitator Mitchell Harte said. “Bringing students in for academic intervention is one way we try to bridge the gap to ensure equitable opportunities are provided.” 

Inspire Virtual instructors also stand out against other virtual programs for their dedication to academic intervention. Rather than penalizing students who fall behind, the instructors bring them into the classroom to guide them back on track. This is one way that they can monitor equitable learning in class.

“We hold our students accountable. We bring those students in and provide them with the support they need to be successful,” Nelson said. “Most virtual schools would probably say if you’re not meeting the content, we’re going to have to drop you. We face those challenges head-on and try to treat those kids just like any other physical school would.”

Luckily, students can work on campus with an instructor nearby. This way, if they are struggling with a task, they have plenty of help. Most days, Williams works on campus. She enjoys the calm environment and feels less isolated.

Williams praised the virtual instructors — Harte, Reynolds and English Instructor Precious White-Jordan — for their dedication to students. She said that seeing instructors do academic intervention makes her feel like they care about their students’ success.

“The teachers here are great,” Williams said. “They take care of us a lot. They don’t want us to fail. Most schools would be like, ‘Well, they’re virtual, so we don’t have to pay as much attention to them,’ but here, you’re the main focus.”