BREAUX BRIDGE — Some St. Martin Parish students started their first day of classes Monday at home — logged into the district’s new virtual school program that begins this year as a way to help students graduate on time or in some cases ahead of schedule.
The program, housed at the Breaux Bridge Junior High campus, enables students to take all or some classes online through a Web-based program called Education 2020. Students may opt to work from home or may report to the Virtual School campus to do their daily coursework. Tests must be taken on-site at either the Virtual School campus or the student’s zoned school.
The program targets students who want a nontraditional learning option, who need to retake a failed course, who want to take electives not offered at their school, or simply want to advance ahead of the traditional school schedule, said Noelle Prados, the program’s teacher. Prados staffs the virtual school learning lab, providing technical support and serving as an instructional tutor should the students need one-on-one help with their courses. The district is also recruiting home-school families for the program. So far, she said, one home-schooler is on the roster.
Prados said of the total 30 students enrolled in the program as of Monday, 20 are full-time online students while the remaining are taking courses while attending their zoned schools. The reasons why students enroll vary, she said.
“We have a few that are credit recovery,” she said. “We have a few who would prefer online. Some have health issues and it’s easier for them to go to school at home. And we have those that want to get ahead and graduate early.”
If enrolled in the program, students are still able to participate in their zoned schools’ extra-curricular activities, from sports to clubs, said Prados, who previously taught computer technology at Breaux Bridge Senior High School.
As the program teacher, she remotely monitors students’ progress. Through the courseware program, students are able to instant-chat with her online or send her an email if they need additional help. She’s also available in the lab.
Prados said she’ll be monitoring students’ progress to also gauge whether the learning model is the right fit for them.
“If I see that it’s not working out for them, I may recommend they return to the traditional classroom setting,” she said.
Monday morning, Breaux Bridge Senior High sophomore Forrest Spear was the sole student starting his courses on-site at the Virtual School learning lab. He said his father wanted him in the lab for a “regular school day” — from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. — for the first three months to see how he acclimates to the instructional model.
The chance to finish school early and at his own pace appealed to him, the 16-year-old said.
“I’m not a school person — someone who’s social and likes school,” Spear said. “I wanted something that could get me through school so I could graduate early and get on with life.”
Getting on with life for Spear involves joining the U.S. Marine Corps and, after his service, moving back to his home state of Alaska to start a career as a commercial fisherman.
Moving through his courses at his own pace, Spear could complete high school a year early, Prados said.
St. Martin Parish students are on a block schedule, meaning they take four courses a semester for a total of eight for the academic year, she explained.
This semester, Spear opted to take his four core academic courses — civics, geometry, English II and physical science — and take electives in the next semester.
One elective he’d like to try isn’t offered in the district: Latin. He’ll also go weekly to his high school for art classes as part of the district’s gifted-and-talented program.
The Virtual School program creates more opportunity for students in the parish, including summer school, which the district had not offered in the past few years due to budget constraints and too few students interested, said parish schools Superintendent Richard Lavergne. Through the Virtual School, 42 students were able to attend summer school and recoup credit this past session, he said.
The district budgeted about $141,000 for the three-year contract for the software program and about another $300,000 was used to renovate a site on the campus and create the learning lab.
Those students interested in attending the Virtual School are also provided transportation to the lab site, which is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday.