Virtual School preparing to open in new building

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DAPHNE – Construction delays have slowed plans to move Baldwin County’s Virtual School program, that allows local students to study in a public-school program from anywhere in the world, to expand into a new home.

Education officials said they are confident, however, that the program will soon be in its permanent location on US 98 in Daphne. Eddie Tyler, superintendent of education, said state fire marshals did not approve the building for occupancy this week after finding several items that needed to be corrected. Sprinkler system heads plugged by paint and a blocked catwalk were among the problems, officials said. An elevator had also not been installed on schedule.

“All of this is easily correctable in a very quick period of time,” Tyler told Board of Education members on Tuesday. “It’s going to open. It’s just not going to happen when we want it to happen.”

Officials did not say when the building will be ready for occupancy.

He said the Virtual School is opening with the start of the academic year this week, but teachers and administrators will continue to operate out of existing offices at Coastal Alabama Community College in Fairhope.

Holly Resmondo, Virtual School principal, said the program has grown from 19 students in 2013 to more than 300 this year. Students in seventh through 12th grade can apply for the program at baldwinvirtual.com through Aug. 23.

The Virtual School allows students to take classes from home or other locations away from traditional school campuses. She said this helps many students who are either temporarily in other locations or cannot attend school due to medical issues.

“They’re all Baldwin County residents, but we have kids who are travelling the country right now with their parents. We have kids whose parents work overseas so many months out of the year, so we have kids go overseas with their parents. We have a premium ballerina. We have club hockey players.”

Classes are taught by state-certified teachers. The program also has 11 teachers in Baldwin County who work with students when they need help.

“What they do is monitor their grades, contact them when they need help, the students can contact the teachers when they need help. They tutor, they coach, whatever it takes to get that kid motivated, so our kids probably get more personalized education than most kids in a traditional setting.”

To be accepted in the program, students must have a grade point average of at least 2.0, less than six unexcused absences and a good disciplinary record. They must also be willing to work, Resmondo said.

“They have to be on track. If they’re a seventh grader, they need to test at a seventh-grade level. Because online education is hard. It is not easy,” she said. “All the curriculum is state-level curriculum so they’re going to be expected to do the grade level work.”

Many students do well in the program. Last year, the 64 graduates earned more than $1 million in scholarships.

When opened, the new Virtual School facility will allow students to meet with teachers or with other students for study groups. The building will also provide space for social activities and clubs. Virtual School students can also take part in extracurricular activities, such as sports and band, in the schools in their attendance zone.

The Virtual School also has dual enrollment with Coastal Alabama Community College. Students can get up to 18 hours free college credit, she said. “They can get those classes for free so they can leave high school with the first semester of their freshman year completed,” Resmondo said.

The Virtual School also operates in summer, allowing students to take classes throughout the year and graduate early if they wish.

The program is part of Baldwin County public school system. The only fee for public school students is a $45 registration fee. Virtual School students also get a Chromebook as other students do.